iPad: Apple Upsets The eBook Apple-cart…

iPad: Will truly upset the Apple-cart…


It’s been a while since I posted a blog here. I’ve been pretty busy with other projects – but that wasn’t the reason. At least two blogs I had in draft form for months were based on the rumors filling the Internet and the business press that Apple was about to launch a Tablet device. Like everyone else, I had lots of information that could end up being either true or false – like the story that Apple had taken delivery of a quantity of 9.7-inch displays, which ended up being true. I decided against publishing, because I felt another dose of speculation added nothing.

Here are a few of my pre-launch speculations, though – copied and pasted from draft blogs:

  1. “Apple could easily create a really elegant Tablet which looked just like a larger iPhone. With the iPhone, it already has a keyboardless UI which millions of users have found easy and convenient to use.
  2. “With a Tablet device, Apple could enter both the NetBook and eBook markets at the same time.”
  3. “Apple has shown with each of its devices – PC, phone and music player – that there are millions of people who’d happily pay a premium price for a great user experience.”
  4. If Apple can get reasonable battery life from an iPhone-like Tablet, it’s going to make the Amazon Kindle screen unacceptable.

Well, as the whole world now knows, Apple did indeed launch a Tablet. It does look like a giant iPhone – even runs the iPhone operating system. It’s set its sights on the growing eBook market. And it has succeeded in getting a reported 10-hour battery life from a color screen which also supports video.

Apple’s PR department must still have sore hands since the launch, from high-fiving each other. When was the last time the launch of a new computer made the front page of all the major newspapers – with a huge color photograph? (Answer: Never!)

I predict it will be a huge success. It will cause the same kind of mayhem among TabletPC and eBook manufacturers that the iPod and iPhone did in their respective market categories.

It’s a great-looking device. It’s sleek and elegant – exactly what you’d expect from Apple. But that isn’t why it will dominate the Tablet category. It’s because Apple understands that computers have made a transition from “computing devices” to “consumer devices”. Apple has built its huge success in recent years by becoming a company which creates great end-to-end consumer experiences.

The arrival of the iPad is bad news for the Kindle. Even though I’ve owned Kindles since the first one shipped, I’ve always described it as a “transitional device”. It was simply the first device with a screen good enough to enable reading text for long periods, with long battery life – and an acceptable book-buying experience built in.

The trouble with the Kindle is that for all its vaunted modernity, it’s really a backward-looking device. So is the eInk technology at its heart. Both are aimed at creating an experience close to paper. But that’s not the Future of Reading. The future will be created by first equalling, then going beyond, paper. It is books with full color, books with video, books which update through the Web. Kindle was good enough to jump-start the digital book market. But it’s not good enough to keep it. eInk was acceptable only until the appearance of a color screen with acceptable battery life. And the iPad’s 10 hours is more than enough to knock it off its pedestal…

iPad is also bad news for Microsoft, which has been pushing TabletPCs for years. It pioneered the genre, and my good friend Bert Keely has been at the heart of its efforts.

The trouble is trying to innovate at Microsoft, which is a company of geeks, run by geeks, and dominated by Windows.

When TabletPC began at Microsoft, it was a research effort – outside of the regular Windows organization. Once it was re-organized into Windows, that was the kiss of death. I never really thought much about this while I worked there, but it’s my belief that despite all the lip-service paid to end-users, the only Windows customers with any real power are the Windows Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).

They’re the customers Windows really has to care about – because most people get their OS upgrades when they change machines. And the Windows OEMs never seemed to get what TabletPCs should really be about. Most of them shipped machines which were basically conventional laptop PCs with Tablet functionality implemented like an add-on. They all had keyboards, and converted to tablets by swiveling a standard screen.

There were some true keyboard-free tablets in the early days – NEC shipped two models (version 2 shipped in Japan only, though!) They died the death by being ahead of their time, and suffered from poor battery life. So we ended up with TabletPCs like Toshiba’s M7, for instance, which were neither one thing nor the other, and wound up being terrible at both. I ran one for more than a year – using it as a conventional laptop because as a Tablet it was just too big, too heavy, too awkward and ran far too hot to be used more than occasionally. Even as a laptop, it suffered from the unreliability all-too-likely in any device whose hardware and software are designed by different companies.

My M7 was replaced by a MacBook Pro, which turned out to be the best Windows laptop I ever had (until I left Microsoft and bought a 133ppi MacBookPro to replace it…) As a result of that experience, my wife Tanya replaced her Windows laptop with an iMac desktop with a large screen and an internal 1Terabyte hard drive. It’s wonderful.

I run Mac OSX when I’m doing page layout or working on high-resolution scans using Adobe InDesign, PhotoShop and Lightroom. But I spend most of my time in Windows. So I run Vista using BootCamp. This MacBookPro is the most trouble-free Windows machine I’ve ever had. I could never get a Windows laptop to Sleep and Wake instantly. Even if it would sleep when brand-new, inevitably the Sleep capability would fail within a few weeks, and I’d be forced to use Hibernate instead. My MacBook Pro still Sleeps and Wakes reliably, months later.

Vista is a great OS – provided you are running it on a fast and powerful machine. I know it’s the fashion to dump on it – even inside Microsoft. Hey, it’s the old story – blame all of your mistakes on the guy who just left. There’s no question that it took waaay too long to build, and that when it first shipped it lacked so many drivers that most people had problems getting their existing equipment to run. I knew plenty of people who had problems running it on Macs using BootCamp back then. But once Apple had released all the drivers the problems went away. I like Vista, and so far I’ve seen no compelling reason to upgrade to Windows 7.

After a few months, I still find text on MacOSX too blurry for my taste, even on this 133ppi display. ClearType was one of the things we did get right at Microsoft – even if it took ten years to get it into the hands of most customers.

I’m not revealing any confidential information here. Anyone who saw Bill Gates’ keynote speech at Comdex in 1998 saw me on stage demonstrating ClearType. And they heard Bill say – in pretty emphatic terms – that it would ship in Windows.

Well, it shipped in Windows XP, right enough. But the Windows team buried it so deeply that most users never even found out it was there, or how to turn it on. It wasn’t until Vista that it was turned on by default for all users. And that shipped in 2008. Ten years after we first showed it before we truly got it into the hands of our customers!

Apple implemented its own version. However, they turned it on for everyone the instant they shipped it. It’s a pity they took a more simplistic approach, and that’s the only question-mark I still have against the iPad.

At Microsoft, we invented ClearType specifically to solve the problems of creating highly-readable text at normal reading sizes (between 9 and 13 point). There’s a lot more technology going on than simply utilizing the RGB sub-pixels on LCD displays. Apple’s clone creates text whose characters look more like the original print fonts at those sizes than ClearType does – but the price they pay is a lack of sharpness and clarity, and text that’s slightly blurred at the edges. That means I still prefer to do all my reading on Windows, with “genuine” ClearType – even on this great 133ppi display.

My only misgiving about the iPad is that its screen is 122ppi. If Apple implements its current ClearType clone on it, we might end up with text that’s slightly blurry, and could cause problems reading for sustained periods. That’s only speculation, though. I can’t say for sure until I’ve held one in my hands and tried to read on it for several hours.

When the merits of different operating systems are discussed, people – especially at Microsoft – have always trotted out a standard argument: “It’s much easier for Apple, they have control over both the hardware and the operating system, they don’t have the same number of different processors/screens/mice/devices to support”.

That argument was logical enough when comparing Macintoshes running MacOS with Windows PCs. But my BootCamp experiences led me to ask the question – publicly, in this blog: “How can Apple make a better Windows machine than any Windows PC maker?” (That turned out not to be such a good career move for me at Microsoft. Take my tip – never tell the Emperor he’s butt-naked, unless you’re sure he’s big enough to see it as an opportunity to buy new clothes).

If you install Vista on a Mac using BootCamp, and run the Windows Experience Index diagnostics which rate its capabilities, you end up with better scores than the vast majority of Windows machines. This machine rates a WEI of 5.3 – and I’ve never seen a score higher than that.

Apple’s had its failures in the handheld device area before, of course – anyone say Newton? But in my opinion they’re a long way past that, and haven’t put a foot wrong in years.

Newton’s “Achilles’ Heel” was that reliable Handwriting Recognition was critical to its functionality, and we all know what a Doonesbury Disaster that turned out to be! iPhone was built without that dependency, and thus dodges the “Doonesbury Bullet”.

Even in these tough economic times, Apple has proved there are plenty of people who’ll pay a premium for a great device. It has been creating winners for years now. There were plenty of cheaper MP3 music players available long before Apple’s iPod appeared. Yet the iPod owns the market – even though it was both later to market, and more expensive. Checking out eBay recently, there were only 3 used iPods for sale (and over 1000 Zunes…)

iPod, therefore I am…

There are plenty of mobile phones around. But Apple’s much more expensive iPhones (both the phone and the service) have been flying off the shelves. I’ve had a Windows Mobile phone for years. But compared to the iPhone it’s a complex, fussy, unfriendly brick. I had been meaning to get rid of it for a long time, but I don’t use a mobile phone that much, and I still read books on it using Microsoft Reader, so I’ve been hesitant about making the switch.

However, last week I dropped my Windows Mobile phone in the water. It was DOA when brought back to the surface. So now I need a new phone. No way am I buying a Windows Mobile replacement. I really grew to hate that phone. I’ve checked out the new Google phones, and I don’t like them much either. No, I want a great customer experience – so I’ll go with Apple.


iPhone: Now I have an excuse to buy one…

I’m not an Apple Fanboy. But you have to give credit where it’s due. From being browbeaten into a mere 2-3% PC market share several years ago, Apple has parlayed its expertise in “consumer computing” into astounding success. I expect the iPad to continue that success.

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91 thoughts on “iPad: Apple Upsets The eBook Apple-cart…

  1. Richard Fink

    Good to see new words from you onscreen Bill. It's been too long. I found myself nodding my head in agreement about most things but I think the iPad missed the mark and I think you summed up why without knowing it:The iPod re-defined the MP3 player.The iPhone re-defined the Mobile Phone.There were huge existing markets for these categories of product already.The iPad re-defines what? It's neither fish nor fowl. I've heard comments like "it's a computer for my mother" and comparisons to "Microsoft Bob".(Heh, heh, remember that?)Ah well, we shall see what happens when it hits the shelves.Welcome back.

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  2. Bill Hill

    @ Richard:What you're seeing on the Web right now, Richard, is a "geekfreakout". People complaining it doesn't multitask, doesn't support Flash, is a closed development environment, yadayadayada….This device ships with 140,000 applications. It won't hit the shelves – it will be too busy flying out the door, for at least the first couple of months :)The first Macintosh didn't support color, had a small screen, and was a closed development environment. People who'd never used a computer loved it. People who had said it was a toy.Maybe I'm the one who's wrong. But I don't think so.

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  3. dan

    bill, i would like to quote you for a July story i am doing about PVi in Taiwan and E Ink may I?this is good and apt and well saidreThe arrival of the iPad is bad news for the Kindle. Even though I've owned Kindles since the first one shipped, I've always described it as a "transitional device". It was simply the first device with a screen good enough to enable reading text for long periods, with long battery life – and an acceptable book-buying experience built in.The trouble with the Kindle is that for all its vaunted modernity, it's really a backward-looking device. So is the eInk technology at its heart. Both are aimed at creating an experience close to paper. But that's not the Future of Reading. The future will be created by first equalling, then going beyond, paper. It is books with full color, books with video, books which update through the Web. Kindle was good enough to jump-start the digital book market. But it's not good enough to keep it. eInk was acceptable only until the appearance of a color screen with acceptable battery life. And the iPad's 10 hours is more than enough to knock it off its pedestal…

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  4. marypcb

    Er, did you miss the HP TC1000 and TC1100 slates with clip-on keyboards? Launched in the first wave of tablet PCs, had 3 hours of battery life (I had one), had a clip-on keyboard… The TC1000suffered from the Transmeta processor but the Centrino TC1100 had pretty decent performance. Then there was Motion Computing, who owned the vertical slate market and had the first UMPC – a 9" slate years before anyone else. If you're going to critique Microsoft's tablet OEMs, do cover the full list! The failure for most of these tablets was price – and the fact that the market wasn't ready for a tablet. Chicken and egg; touchscreens couldn't be cheap enough for the iPad until enough touchscreens had been bought by other people to bring the price down.Also, if you don't see any reason to upgrade from Vista but you're complaining about Vista performance, perhaps you want to look into the performance improvements in Windows 7? The benchmarks I've done on systems upgraded from 7 show significant performance improvement over Vista.

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  5. Bill Hill

    @marypcbYou're right, I missed those HP tablets. They weren't exactly a roaring success though. An HP tablet I had – can't remember the model – was probably the best of the bunch over the years. And it ran a lot of its time plugged in.I never got what you'd call acceptable battery life on any Tablet I used – HP, Acer, NEC or Toshiba.On the "chicken and egg" of touchscreens and getting their price down… Well, the fact that Apple shipped so many touch-screen iPhones probably did a lot more to bring down touch-screen prices than all of the other touch-screen devices put together. I'm not disputing that Windows 7 perf is better than Vista. It's just not compelling enough (for me) to pay for the upgrade, and then go through the hassle of doing it.

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  6. Anonymous

    Thank you for finally realizing Apple 'just gets it'. Apple has always been about 'just making it work'.Having been an Apple fanboy since the ][+, I have known this for years.MS may have brought computing to the masses but they have never made it easy.Gone are the days when people will put up with a complex, complicated piece of equipment. For many years, people expected a computer to be complicated. No longer. People want their TVs and other CEs to just turn on.

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  7. Tom

    People who had HP TC1100's loved them! When docked into the keyboard, they were a great conversation-starter. When used as a slate, they were light, quiet, and ergonomic.Because they were a true slate, they didn't shake and rattle when used with the screen out, unlike convertibles. Unlike other slates, they had a totally-smooth surface, so gunk didn't get behind the screen. The screen was true glass, so it didn't scratch like plastic screens did. All in all, it was a very nice, finished product.But HP dropped the line, because it didn't sell. Two other strikes against it: (1) it was originally a Compaq product, and acquired along with Compaq. (2) it was designed by an Asian ODM, namely, LG. In other words, few vested interests in HP to defend it when it went on the chopping block.Here we see the real problem in the PC OEM market. Short-term thinking. Same thing that killed the American automakers.

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  8. David Heady

    Bill, this is the first read I've had of your work. I suspect it won't be the last. Finding calm, constructive, and realistic critiques online is becoming more and more difficult. Even though I got your blog link from ZDNet that venue has become akin to watching five year old boys in a sand box. Having a clear voice of reason to listen to isn't a priority there. I appreciate your input on ClearType as well. I hear the sandbox set whining about how blurry OpenType is, yet, with about 30 yrs in graphic arts I rather like the smoothness WISYWIG of it. I'm now eager to see ClearType on a Windows machine for a comparison.Again, thanks for the clear headed analysis and your thoughts on things Apple and Microsoft.

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  9. Bill Hill

    The first Tablet I ever had was an NEC slate (Versa Lite?). I thought it was great, especially for reading – in portrait orientation – although battery life was not that good, maybe a couple of hours max.For typing, I preferred a keyboard. V. 1 of the handwriting recognition just wasn't good enough.I had a stand for the screen (a cheapo cheapo plastic one I bought for $7) and a plugin keyboard.But it didn't really work for that – the screen was really best held at reading distance and angle. For eBooks and eMagazines it was very good (there were some great, "high-glossy" prototypes with stunning adverts – full-page, beautiful type, with sound and video).These TabletPCs didn't have a touch screen, but required a stylus with its own battery.Version 2 of the device was even better – thinner, sleeker design. But NEC shipped it only in Japan. We got someone to buy one for us there.And then they disappeared…I held on to that NEC tablet for a few years. But it would not run Vista (too slow, especially on graphics). I had to reinstal XP many times to keep it alive. Then one day XP refused to instal at all, leaving me in Eternal Blue Screen.

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  10. Anonymous

    There is no subpixel antialiasing on the iPhone, presumably because the higher density LCD does the job of producing sharp edges by itself.I believe there's a fair chance that there will be no subpixel antialiasing on the iPad as well, even with its slightly smaller pixel density.

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  11. Bill Hill

    @anonymous:If you're right about no subpixel antialiasing on the iPad, all I can say is "Ouch! That's going to hurt for reading…"At 200ppi, you can get away without it. Even then, it definitely improves text. As you go above that, there's a serious law of diminishing returns.But at 122ppi, or 132ppi (both figures I've heard for iPad), you'll want it badly when reading for a sustained period.

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  12. Spaced Cowboy

    Just as a point of reference, I far prefer the "blurry" (for which I read: accurate) representation on-screen of Apple's font management.I (and no doubt you) realise this is a purely personal and subjective preference, but I think the cleartype text looks anaemic on screen. Butt-ugly would be a compliment. Just MHO.It's probably more whatever you're used to, and I suspect most people are used to cleartype rather than OSX-style rendering, so perhaps your point is a valid one. For me, though, having the OSX rendering is a huge win, not a problem.Simon

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  13. Jameson

    Very well said. I appreciate the insightful perspective from someone who's been working in the industry and particularly on the issue of e-reading for such a long time. A shame, though, that people have such difficulty objectively praising Apple's clear successes in the consumer experience area over the past decade without carefully disclaiming "I'm not an Apple fanboy." Shouldn't a person be innocent of that charge until proven guilty? Seeing the promise of the iPad doesn't make you a rube – don't apologize for your insights.

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  14. Anonymous

    If you show any appreciation for an Apple product you immediately get labeled fanboi.Apple seems to have realized that doing things right is about performing a symphony; not playing the trumpet. Microsoft, and their partners, seem to think that if 1 instrument is played well the rest of the symphony doesn't matter.A symphony orchestra doesn't have to be perfect, but they have to play well with each other; anything less and they are just a bunch of musicians squawking out some tunes.

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  15. detayls

    Bill,(Fellow Scot immigrated to California in 1981 to work as a developer on WordStar)Your comments are on the money but you missed one super important thing about the iPad.The iPad will be a megahit with the over 50's. I mean megahit. We have absolutely no idea how big but I say HUGE!David

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  16. detayls

    One more little amusement.Your blog is white on black and you describe your unhappiness with Apple's clone of ClearType.Does ClearType even work with white characters on a black background?Just asking…..David

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  17. Bill Hill

    @SpacedCowboy:Another commenter suggests you won't even get OSX rendering on iPad.Yes, everything is subjective. But I'm making my call based on more than a decade of analysis and research aimed at making text you can read on screen for extended periods – like a book.

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  18. diskgrinder

    @anonymous2 excellent metaphor there with the trumpet. I'm going to patent that retroactively so you can't claim prior art.I also would like to echo David Heady's insightful comment about the balance you've brought to the debate (which has become a pre-millenial "flame war", a phrase that should be consigned to the 90s dustbin along with frames, Netscape Navigator Gold and Vignette).

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  19. Scott

    Thanks for the info about ClearType! I just activated it on my work desktop, and I'm seeing an immediate improvement in readability and comfort. I'll have to recommend this to my colleagues!Good to see your comments on the iPad as well. While I don't necessarily think it will be the instant market-changing device that some are claiming, I don't share the prevailing "epic fail" sentiment that seems to be so prevalent among tech geeks right now. As you point out, Apple excels in providing a complete user experience, an area in which Windows tablets have been sadly lacking. We'll see if Android tablets can provide some actual competition for the iPad, but unless Google loosens its stranglehold on the Android Marketplace and the other Google apps, Notion Ink and the other innovators in this space will be operating under a serious handicap.

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  20. Anonymous

    Once iphone resolution is increasedto say 960×540 (300 dpi) then next version of ipad will increase its resolution then it will bea perfect reader. problem is thatdisplay companies are all investingin OLED and HDTV instead of higher dpi in anything but small screens.If you start a company.Can I get an interview?RD

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  21. Gavin McKeown

    Thanks for the clear, thoughtful blog. It's interesting to read the thoughts of someone who's been inside Microsoft and come out the other side.You're right about the geek freakout on the web. Most of the things the tech blogs are complaining about are not things that concern the target user group for the iPhone or the iPad. When you start to see companies like Verizon advertising that you can get Twitter and Facebook on your TV, you know computing has become an appliance. (Though I dread to think what it's like trying to use them with a TV remote!)One minor point that the freakout tends to miss though – the iPhone and iPad *do* multitask, they just don't let third party applications do it. I can listen to music via the iPod function and use every other feature of my iPhone at the same time, but I can't do the same thing with Pandora or Last.fm…

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  22. Gavin McKeown

    Thanks for the clear, thoughtful blog. It's interesting to read the thoughts of someone who's been inside Microsoft and come out the other side.You're right about the geek freakout on the web. Most of the things the tech blogs are complaining about are not things that concern the target user group for the iPhone or the iPad. When you start to see companies like Verizon advertising that you can get Twitter and Facebook on your TV, you know computing has become an appliance. (Though I dread to think what it's like trying to use them with a TV remote!)One minor point that the freakout tends to miss though – the iPhone and iPad *do* multitask, they just don't let third party applications do it. I can listen to music via the iPod function and use every other feature of my iPhone at the same time, but I can't do the same thing with Pandora or Last.fm…

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  23. Anonymous

    It's worth pointing out, for those not familiar, that cleartype (and Apple's equivalent) rely on the arrangement of the sub-pixels. On most desktop and laptop screens these run horizontally which is where increased resolution helps English text. The iPhone is designed to be used in any orientation which (combined with its high DPI) makes this technology unsuitable. The iPad has a slightly lower DPI but, assuming they haven't had the screens custom-made, it would seem that in book reading orientation (portrait) the subpixels would run vertically and therefore not help. (I also have doubts that cleartype, the windows version, would work in a zooming interface like the iPhone or iPad since one of it's side effects is to change the proportions and layout by stretching or shrinking text to fit the pixel grid. This is enough to shift words onto the next line in long runs of text. That's just a theory though, maybe it can be worked around. )

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  24. Shamino

    WRT ClearType, it works great when it works, but it also fails miserably when it doesn't. I've got an HP laptop running Vista with an external 24" display rotated into portrait mode. When ClearType is used, hilighted (inverted) text almost always shows color fringing. No amount of tweaking with the ClearType Tuner app seems to help. Everythign looks better if I change the method for smoothing screen fonts to "Standard".Apple's method does seem fuzzier when viewed back-to-back (like when running Safari on Windows), but I've never really noticed on my Mac. Of course, on the Mac, you can configure different degrees of font smoothing, so maybe I've just picked a preference different from the one Apple uses on Windows systems.WRT tablet tech being killed by the Windows group, that's sad. I hope MS's Surface tech doesn't get similarly killed. The videos I saw were awesome, but the system won't be nearly as nice if MS tries to shoehorn a Windows UI onto the platform.

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  25. andybaird

    A very well thought out article–thanks for writing it, Bill! I'd like to offer a few comments about onscreen reading and ebooks, based on my own experiences.I've had three ebook readers: a Sony PRS-500 Reader, a PRS-505, and an iPod Touch. I've also done a lot of reading on the 24" screen of my iMac. (No, I don't find Apple's antialiased text "fuzzy," but I haven't looked at any recent Windows machines to compare it.)The PRS-505 has exactly the same E-ink screen as your Kindle. Given good lighting, I find it pleasant to read, though I wish the contrast were better. "Good lighting" means somewhat brighter light than I normally have at home after dark–more than I need when reading a paper book. Still, I've read hundreds of books on the two Sony Readers over the past couple of years. I'm a heavy reader, and sometimes will read for three or four hours at a stretch, but I've never had any eyestrain problems with the E-ink screen.The big surprise was how much I enjoy reading on the iPod Touch. Before I owned one, I couldn't imagine reading on such a small screen–"flipping pages every ten seconds," as I said to a friend. But once I got an iPod Touch and installed the Eureka ebook reader software, I fell in love with its readability and–this will sound silly, perhaps–its unbelievably realistic page turns. I've read for as much as four hours at a stretch on the iPod Touch without any discomfort.In fact, nowadays I find myself doing about half my reading on the iPod and half on the Sony Reader. The iPod has one huge advantage going for it: it's always in my shirt pocket wherever I go. If I get stuck in traffic or in a slow-moving line at the grocery store, I can pull it out and read a chapter from the dozens of books I have on it.By the way, I've also read books on the iPod Touch with Kindle for IPhone and with the popular Stanza e-reader app, but nothing I've tried comes close to Eureka's user experience. What I saw of the iBook app in demo videos looks pretty close to Eureka, though only firsthand experience will tell for certain.I expect the iPad to succeed as an ebook reader, and I think the day of grayscale E-ink screens is probably over just as it was beginning… unless they can get the price of a basic Kindle or Sony Reader down to $99, bringing it into the impulse-purchase category. Personally, I'd like to see Apple follow up the iPad with a smaller version–say, a 6" screen, similar to the Kindle's.Finally, a word to Richard Fink: redefining a category is one way to succeed. Defining a new one is another. It's riskier… but if anybody can do it, Apple can.

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  26. zpok

    I read on a macbook. Text set to "huge", bordering on "gigantic". It is actually not such a bad experience. I can read in the dark and check the dictionary with a simple right-click. I have been waiting for a good book reader since 2000, though. I think the iPad is it, but given what I'm starting from, I admit it won't have to be a lot better than a portable to make my day. I've heard windows users complain about "fuzzy" mac text rendering before and don't understand the complaint. I suspect poster above has a point, that it's all about habit, but am not sure. Do you have actual testing results on this issue?Thanks, btw, for the read.

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  27. kgelner

    @Richard Fink:On what Apple is redefining – they are re-defining the tablet space. The tablet was always meant to be a different type of computer at heart, but Windows tablets never really got there – at the core you are still using a standard PC, with a mouse and everything. The fact that some stylus come with a "second mouse button" is a giant hint that nothing really different is going on except you have changed the mouse a little and taken away the keyboard.

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  28. Bill Hill

    @detayls:Of course ClearType works with white on black. Just as well as black on white.I picked W on B, BTW, because there's no support for multi-column in blogger. So you end up with one single column of text as you scroll down. A little bit of black text on a huge area of white. There's just too much light energy punching out at the reader's eyes.If you read some of my earlier posts there's a lot more detail about stuff like this.

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  29. davidoglesby

    The technical specifications on Apple's site say the iPad has a 132 ppi display. As anonymous said, the iPhone doesn't do subpixel antialiasing. My understanding is you'd need a completely different algorithm depending on the orientation (presumably 4 algorithms since there are 2 portrait and 2 landscape orientations) since the relative positions of the subpixels are fixed and the orientation of the iPad/iPhone is not. Hence grayscale antialising.

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  30. Bill Hill

    One of the things I did at Microsoft was to get finding for an extensive series of research projects – and a cognitive science PhD to run them…We focused on independent research at universities, with peer-reviewed, published papers. Research carried out by folks like James Sheedy, an opthalmologist and expert in "computer eyestrain" issues.I believe everything we funded has been published.Dr. Kevin Larsen stills runs the program there.

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  31. Darren Stone

    I would love to run my second desktop monitor in portrait orientation, but the font rendering looks terrible.Perhaps the iPhone and iPad don't do sub-pixel rendering because the screen orientation is constantly changing.Despite that, I'm constantly impressed with the iPhone's ability to render very small text in a readable way, which is something you encounter in Mobile Safari quite a lot.

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  32. Bill Hill

    @davidoglesby:We did ClearType for TabletPCs, in which the screen was also rotated. You don't actually need algorithms as complex as you suggest.@darreniPhone almost certainly has >200ppi. Easy to do on small screen, serious power drain on anything much bigger than a phone. See some of my earlier posts for more.@andybaird:I read the entire six volumes of Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" on a Dell Axiom PocketPC (which had 204ppi) – just to test an "extreme" read…@Shamino:There are some screens that just don't work. And some people have much more sensitivity to color fringing artifacts. Everyone's color perception is different – that's why there's a tuner. But we have found some people who just can't get along with it at all. The best algorithms in the world can't get rid of color fringing. We can filter it below a threshold that makes it usable for almost everyone. But you can't remove it altogether.@ anonymous:I answered some of your points above.The point about text is that if you handle it as text it zooms better than anything else. It's designed at very high resolution. The outlines are mathematically scaled, then rasterized (with hinting applied to control naive rasterization weirdness).@anonymous:"However the hand recognition of Newton is present in Mac OS X"Which the iPad doesn't run, of course…I would not be in the least surprised to see Inkwell appear on iPad. In fact, I'd be stunned if it didn't, at some point. I just don't think Steve wants to deal with that issue and have it distract from the launch excitement he's generated.@ anonymous"RD"Only if you tell me your name 🙂

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  33. Brian

    I second the "white on black" annoyance. The contrast is way too painful to read anything at length — I barely made it through to the comments (and then had to blink several times after switching to this "bright" comment form like I just walked out into the midday sun). If black text on white is too much overall light output, you should maybe explore something else in the gray scale for your background… I'm surprised it doesn't bother you!That said, nice article. Thanks!

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  34. kevin

    About the lack of subpixel antialiasing on iPhone:As I understand it, the reason it's available on the Mac but not on the iPhone is because you turn an iPhone sideways and upside-down all the time. With the usual vertical-bar LCD pattern, subpixel antialiasing would look inconsistent between portrait and landscape. To a user who doesn't know the technical reason, that could be eerie. I think Apple is avoiding that.

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  35. Simon White

    > racial originI know you mean well, but that is extremely offensive. There is only one race: human. Racism was at best a pseudo-science, at worst just an excuse for oppression. It was proven wrong long ago. The racial origin of all humans is the same. There is no actual information there.You can say "cultural heritage" and it is not only likely more accurate for what you're trying to say, it applies more broadly (includes oppression based on language or religion between people of the same racist classification) and would be understood by more people, especially outside the US.

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  36. RVND

    Nice article, but my question is about your white text on a black screen – you are obviously a professional when it comes to typography on a computer – does this really work for you? I found it hard to concentrate on the article screen after screen.

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  37. David W.

    It has been said that the big difference between ClearType and Apple's font smoothing techniques is that Microsoft optimizes it's fonts for the display while Apple optimizes its fonts for paper.Microsoft optimizes its fonts for clarity on the screen even if it distorts the fonts themselves. Apple prefers to keep the fonts true to their original design even if some people complain they're not as sharp.This is part of the aesthetics of Apple, and I think whether you think Apple's method is better or worse than Microsoft's method of font smoothing depends upon what you're use to.I'm use to reading text on Macs, and find reading text on Windows painful. The printing is sharp, but the letters simply loose their shape which I find makes it harder to read. However, my friends who use Windows tell me that they find Mac text as blurry and don't seem to mind the overall look.As for the iPad, it's a failure. Yes, Apple will probably sell millions, redefine the tablet market, and cause sales of the otehr book readers to crash. Yes, everyone will declare it the new must have device. David Pogue will buy four, and there will be lines stretching for miles around all the Apple stores as people wait to get their grubby hands on one. I'll probably end up buying one.But Apple could sell hundreds of millions of iPads instead of just millions.The problem is that Apple defined the iPad as a third device that fits between your computer (hopefully a MacBook or iMac) and your iPhone. However, it could have been the primary computing device for hundreds of millions of users. The problem is that you can't really use an iPad unless you already happen to have a Windows PC or Mac. You can't print directly from an iPad, and there's no way to back it up except through syncing to a Windows PC or Mac.However, most users spend their time using Twitter, Facebook, reading email or web browsing. For them an iPad would make a great primary computer. There is no Windows Explorer or Finder showing you all the underlying files on your system. There's no Control Panel filled with hundreds of technical configurations. It just works.I'm afraid that Apple might have missed the ball on this one. The iPad will be a great success, but has left room for Google with its Chrome OS slate.

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  38. Anonymous

    iPhone screen has 160dpi.Everything on iPhone is linked to OpenGL-backed Core Animation, which means you work with bitmaps, which can be scaled, rotated, blended for "free".iPhone OS will rotate UI for you. You may render into rotated bitmaps and not even know it (and those bitmaps may be rotated within rotated view, within rotated view controller…)Notice that when you zoom in Safari, it zooms a bitmap, and re-renders it only after you stop zooming….all this would easily expose subpixel trick and cause color ringing.I assume Apple didn't want to trust developers to use this properly (too easy to accidentally rotate/scale bitmap with text), and didn't want to mix rendering types (it's messy on Mac OS X already), so they just ignored subpixel AA altogether.

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  39. Chris

    I call BS on your eBay numbers. They're off (both in number and in iPod:Zune ratio) by at least one, and probably two, orders of magnitude. Can you provide some supporting evidence for these?I'll also join the chorus pointing out the irony of someone championing ClearType whilst simultaneously making his blog as difficult to read as possible. The suggestion to use a slightly darker background while maintaining black text was a good one.

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  40. Bill Hill

    @Chris:I don't care what you call. Those were the numbers on the day I checked. I don't bullshit or lie.To you, Brian, and RNVD, I'd say that the recognized world experts in readability of text were Miles Tinker and Donald Paterson. Their work was done for print. By 1940, they had carried out speed of reading and comprehension tests on more than 33,000 subjects. They did research for about 40 years, and all their tests concluded that white on black was just as readable as black on white.White text on black paper was never used much, because it would use much more ink. And yes, it would have been unexpected.I'm interested in this reaction from a few people, though.Is it really harder to read, or is is more about what you're expecting?Genuine question here. I liked Brian's reaction – that when he went out to the comments page, he had to blink several times because it was like walking out into bright sunlight. That's an interesting piece of anecdotal information. I find the same thing myself. It's like my eyes have been resting while reading white on black, then they get a "rude awakening".Most people like to wear sunglasses in bright sunlight for instance. It's more comfortable, and protects their eyes.A very high percentage of computer users – it's been reported as high as 75-90% – report visual symptoms.The American Optometric Association has a good page about it at:http://www.aoa.org/x5374.xmlNow, I've been working with readability issues since, oh, 1968 – and interested in readability on computer screens since the early 1980s. I've read as much of other people's research as I could. Did some research myself. Funded research.That's not to say I'm any kind of "unassailable expert" who gets up on his high horse and says:"You can't question me because I know more than you". I might be wrong. But I've studied the issue of reading from a screen a lot, and thought about it a lot, and this was what I picked out of the limited layout options which Blogger offers, as the best layout for my blog.Now, that's not to say this would be my choice of best layout for everything – far from it!I've talked a lot about layout in earlier posts.

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  41. John K

    First – great article! My first read of your stuff and I'll definitely be back for more.Now an admission – though I consider myself very well versed in technology in general and Apple in particular, I will admit freely that I have never paid much attention to the fine details of fonts and the various anti-aliasing technologies used by either Microsoft nor Apple. With that said, in regard to the iPad, I'm curious if you, or anyone else, can shed any light on the difference between a traditional LCD display (and the screens used by iPhone et al.) and the IPS display the iPad will use. How does that technology affect the "readability" issue you and your commentors have been discussing?

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  42. Tutor

    Thank you for the blog post, I enjoyed it.Regarding displays emitting too much light – I mostly use the software Nocturne for Mac OS X, even with daylight. You can find it here:http://code.google.com/p/blacktree-nocturne/Basically it switches dark and light for less strain on the eyes. It works very well for me. At least until I get to web pages like your's with white text on black ;-)Screenshot and better description than on the Google project page, but not updated for the latest development:http://docs.blacktree.com/nocturne/nocturneBest wishes

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  43. Bruce Princeton

    My initial reaction when I saw the Apple iPad was confusion. What functionality does this device offer over and above the Apple iPhone? And what market is Apple aiming this device at?BruceNJ

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  44. davidam60

    personally, leaving my own personal opinion in the most respectful way i can. The ipad/iphone3GS (notice i said s) had nothing new and is junk. ok now to backup my opinion.Iphone: Iphone was on regular "edge" network. however they eventually offered "sdk" and now games and apps started on all modelsiphone3g:now the iphone is 3g and every1 who had 1st gen iphone could upgrade for a low at&t price in contract. (at&t lost a fortune) but now apps over 3g is awsome!!! i own 1iphone3gs: ok guys seriously whats with the iphone3gs whats so special why is it s? here is what it means: s is for the faster proccessor claiming its 2x faster not the data speeds on at&t network. so apps take a little onger to load on 3g so what? after load they work normally. videocamera… there's an app for that (2) one is free and it uploads live. its called qik yes qik its awsome works with all models. and the other one is for special features for $1.99 im not trying to advertise just prove my point. ok so whats left? 3mpx camera (its just 1 mpx more nothing to exciting) so its only worth it if your buying a new phone. not for upgrading. oh and the compass, who uses a dumb compass? there is location services for that and its free!ipad: seriously guys an ipad? this is apple's saddest attempt yet. ok, whats so special? nothing out of the regular iphone version just flatter like a laptop? my personal oppinion STUPID!!!! DUMB!!! APPLE OUT OF IDEAS!!!!!! however though iphone app from amazon may be the only good thing about this giant ipod/phone over 3g????? i wouldn't buy it. buy a kindle from amazon instead or a iphone3gs (dont upgrade if you have iphone3g) use a vga cable to connect to tv and view? vga cable is red white and yellow

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  45. Russell

    Thank you Bill for the insightful post and dialogue. The white on black caused me no problem reading from my iPhone. I must say it was a bit blurry, but I am near-sighted: reading without corrective lenses. 🙂

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  46. Bill Hill

    @ John K:For a short section in Wikipedia which explains IPS – and even refers to the iPad – see:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquid_crystal_display#In-plane_switching_.28IPS.29For a good article on the basics of IPS, with a graphic showing the difference between normal TFT LCD displays, and IPS (In-Plane Switching) LCD displays, see: http://www.pctechguide.com/43FlatPanels_In-Plane_Switching.htmIPS is about improving color and viewing angle of displays. Older LCDs showed terrible color shifts to the human eye when viewed off-axis. IPS technology was introduced in 1996. Its light-transmission and contrast characteristics have been improved over time. One of the issues with IPS when it was first introduced was that it was power-hungry. It required two transistors instead of one for the switching. It also transmitted less light through the panel – which meant it needed a much more powerful backlight.LG produced new IPS technology last year which reduced backlight requirements. See:http://www.displayblog.com/2009/02/13/lg-display-e-ips-lcd-panel-update-2/This is the technology Apple is using for the iPad.Now, what does this mean for ClearType? In theory, nothing. You still have the same RGB sub-pixel structure which ClearType leverages.However, I do have one caveat. With ClearType, you can change the color fringing characteristics very slightly (they're always there, although muted by filtering), by changing the viewing angle of your screen – say, by tilting it back from the optimum.So there's a remote possibility of some change there, although I think it's unlikely.At 132ppi – the official Apple figure for iPad screen resolution – I'd still want some sub-pixel anti-aliasing for good readability. At least one commenter on this blog says there won't be any. IPS technology won't change that, IMO. However, the bottom line is that I won't really be able to judge iPad readability until I can try reading on one for a sustained period.

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  47. Bill Hill

    @ Simon WhiteI'm sorry you find the term "racial origin" offensive.You clearly haven't read my post about the fact that there is only one race – human – and that every single human on the face of this planet is descended from a group which left Africa just 60,000 years ago.

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  48. R

    Jobs said net books are not good at anything, so let's see what iPad is good at. Reading? You can say that it supports multimedia and color, but come on, how many NY Time best sellers are of that category? Good books don't need those gimmicks. Kindle is much better in creating a pleasant reading experience for your eyes. Movie? Wait a minute, I thought this is a couch device, so I suppose you have a HDTV out there? Web surfing? All right, maybe it is handy to read web pages on your couch. But you will have to think about it because it does not support flash. Mobile? Work? Email? Are you serious?Admit it, it's just a gigantic iPhone, which btw, has lost its own momentum too. I don't see what kind of convenience it provides people. Anyway, the awkward name of the device is pretty funny..

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  49. vincenzio

    I just want to point out that you CAN print from an iPad, because you can print from an iPhone and iPod Touch. HP and some of the other printer companies have made applications that allow you to send documents to their printers over wi-fi. Maybe this isn't the whole answer, but we're in the middle of figuring out what the next way to use a computer is – or even, "what is a computer, really?"

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  50. TestKev

    Hi Bill,I think you're on the money regarding the split in perception between ordinary people and geeks on this.Personally as a developer (.NET and some iPhone) I see the iPad as a great opportunity.A lot of the problem with the geek perception is one of framing: people have certain expectations of what they should be able to do with a computer – and yet, nobody gets upset (well, most people don't) that they can't hack the software on their washing machine.As an applicance (and one that enables thousands of virtual appliances) the iPad makes perfect sense.I suspect the biggest real threat to its success (other than Apple failing to line up international publishing deals and make iBook available outside the US) is if the bad PR echo chamber creates a self-reinforcing body of "common knowledge" of the kind that unfairly damned Vista.

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  51. detayls

    Bill,I just viewed your blog post from my iPhone.Have you tried that yet? It is very hard to read.Perhaps you could somehow offer a black in white alternative for mobile?David

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  52. Marc

    Nice post. I agree that the iPad will change the tablet space, and for the better. While I am not so keen on the closed nature of the device, it’s clear to me that consumers want an appliance-like, instant-on device for surfing the web and watching films. I personally don’t get the whole “e-book” craze, for me – someone who reads one book at a time, carrying around a paperback is perfectly fine, and comes with the advantage of a thriving second-hand market and the ability to get free books from libraries, borrow and lend to friends etc. Still, a lot of people obviously do like e-books so it will be interesting to see what happens. I wonder how Microsoft will respond to the iPad, will we see an alternative Windows interface in the same vein as Media Center I wonder? Or will the Windows desktop just become more figure friendly overall?

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  53. Bill Hill

    @detayls:That's good constructive feedback. I'd hadn't really thought about the mobile experience.That might explain why a few people have been so upset about the white-on-black.I need to think about how to do this. Any suggestions?

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  54. Bill Hill

    @detayls"I checked this out. It's no help. It's about blogging to Blogger from your iPhone.What I'd really like is a second blog layout when someone accesses my blog from a mobile device. I like the one I have for laptops & desktops.Anyone know a way to do this, without having to create two separate blogs, and then post to and maintain both of them?There ought to be some way…

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  55. pk de cville

    @Bill,Wouldn't it be useful for blogger to support the reader's choice of color in background and text?I could read your blog w/ white on grey or…If anyone agrees, pls forward this suggestion to any google/blogger friends you have.

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  56. Anonymous

    Very interesting analysis of Kindle device. We all should be aware that books are like vinyl records. It is the time to upgrade experience in reading. Trivial example would be reading of Da Vince Code. Yes, you can read the book very easily but if you want to get more details about "facts" wouldn't it be easier to have Wikipedia just click away on same device. Also in all this fuzz about tablet PCs nobody is mentioning grand-pa of all these tablets: Fujitsu Siemens Stylistic Series. I am using it for more than two years. I run XP, Vista and now Win 7. It is not perfect but, save for the typing experience and weight, it has everything you would need for such a device.

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  57. Luc

    Nice blog and interesting thread. About eBook: I first recall the first one, I think it was in 1998 and was developed by Sony. Size was slightly smaller to the iPad. Never launched. One thing I am looking for is for newspapers and more importantly magazine subscriptions (end of free web news content?) as long as the publishers keep the same format as the printed versions. Also in 1998, I was involved in what was called then Multimedia. Was also the start of the Web as we know it now. The company that I was working for created a portal which was International Newspaper gateway. On this site, you had access to several newspapers in PDF format. Name was i-Cor (http://web.archive.org/web/19971014022337/http://www.i-cor.com/). The iPad will make this real.

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  58. mike

    My eyes are strained reading your white text on black background to the point that my eyes see the white of the fonts bleeding into the black. Interesting article, but I have to take a break from reading it.

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  59. mike

    My previous comment is just to illustrate the problem with reading on a back-lit screen which I find hard to do especially in negative colours. The iPad is a backward thinking device too but in different ways than a Kindle. The way you describe books as going beyond the page to include video sounds a lot like a web-site to me. I started to investigate iBooks and I don't see any documentation anywhere that iBooks will include books with interactive content. If you want to publish a book with interactive content you have to make it an iPhone/ipad app which means it won't be sold as a book in iBooks.I have a customer that wants to publish his coffee-table photo book in iBooks to be ready for iPad release, but the iPad eBook reader will not support reading in landscape mode. If you turn the device to landscape, two portrait pages are displayed. This leaves us with no choice but to develop and sell this as an App. So if we develop this as an app, we will be essentially creating a new webpage packaged as an eBook App for sale in iTunes.From what I see, the trend is and has been for many years to move content to the cloud so that media can be consumed on any device be it a TV, Phone or Computer. This is where the iPad is backward thinking. Customers are expected to own this specific device in order to consume the digital media. The media will be downloaded and stored on the device just like the old days and if you don't have the device with you, you have no access to your media.Every solution that the iPad provides to consumers is a software solution, the device itself is irrelevant. Everything it does can be done on any computer and moving all of our great interactive web applications to iTunes seems to me a step in the wrong direction. Customers only seem to like opening their wallet in the iTunes store where purchasing digital media is concerned. So while making a website is a better solution to the consumer, making an eBook for sale in iBooks will be better for the publishers bottom line.We need fewer closed ecosystems. It would make much more sense to take the successful iTunes business model to website subscriptions. We would then have a central location for purchasing our media that is independent of the deice you use for consuming it. Media publishers would be able to bypass yet another format that they need to publish for and concentrate their efforts on better standards compliant content.

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  60. Bill Hill

    Hi Mike. I don't whether we need fewer closed ecosystems. But we certainly need more and better open ecosystems.And publishers – professionals and amateurs – still need a way to write once for all devices.No spec for books with video etc doesn't surprise me at this stage. But the iPad does support both video and interactivity (unlike the Kindle, which doesn't support video and supports interactivity on with that horrible "mouse-stick"). So I don't think that will necessarily be too long in coming.The design of information display is still stuck in the First Age (which began with cave-painters). I've spoken about this in earlier posts I think.We need new tools which can write out web-standards markup but use it in new ways. I have thought of starting a company in this area.

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  61. Anonymous

    I am not a gambling man but if I was I would bet huge that you are dead wrong Bill. We aren't going to see the iPad flying off the shelves. No one is going to line up to buy one. I hear lots of people trying to justify the iPad. I love Apple just as much as the next guy but I think its time to admit that they screwed the pooch big time on this one.

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  62. mike

    Thanks for the comment. Do you think iPad is made to be a Kindle replacement? We already have had devices (computers) for years that do reading, video, mapping and so much more. What we have lacked up until now is a device that is really good for reading books. The Kindle and other readers will always be better for reading for avid readers. The iPad is like the swiss army knife where it is loaded with tools, but none of these tools can adequately replace the single purpose device.

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  63. Greg

    Great post, Bill. Lots of well-reasoned food for thought. I've been using Stanza on my iPod Touch for reading, but I'm always happy to try something new. You mentioned an app you like called Eureka, but I can't seem to find it on iTunes. Any more info on it you could provide?Thanks!Greg

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  64. Bill Hill

    @ Mike:I think it's made to be a much more general-purpose device, not just a Kindle-killer. But if the screen gives a good enough reading experience – and I won't be able to give an opinion on that until I've actually tried to read with one for several hours – it will do serious damage to Kindle. One of the things I dislike most about my Kindle is having to have a light on when I read in bed. With an LCD display, I can turn the screen brightness way down for reading in the dark.

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  65. markchagers

    Thanks for the interesting article. One thing I found surprising is that you characterize Apple's subpixel rendering technology as a ClearType clone. Apple's implementation was introduced in Mac OS 8.5 in 1998, the same year you say you demoed ClearType. If both implementations are more or less synchronous, it's not really fair to call either one a clone of the other. (I always assumed it was the other way around, until I read your blog post, but I understand that was due to the short-sighted decisions of the Windows team).Though ClearType admittedly looks somewhat sharper, I've always preferred Apple's decision to preserve the font metrics better. ClearType text has a slightly irregular look that bothers me more than the supposed "fuzziness".Certainly ClearType has made working on a Win box (job requirement) much more acceptable, and I've always made a point of turning it on ever since I stumbled upon it.

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  66. Rafael

    Both me and my wife have iPod Touch devices (hers is the 32GB, I only have 16GB, so there is some p-envy). We love the iPods but we rely on our BlackBerry 9700 Bold (this time we both have the same device). Give it a try, before going to the iPhone (great iPod, lousy phone/organizer).

    Reply
  67. Cecil

    Good blog man. I can't wait to get my hands on one. I was a little ify at first, but the way you describe it makes me one to hope all over the I-Pad. Also Bill I was hoping you mind exchanging blogroll links with me. I would really appreciate you. Thank you for your time!

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  68. Xbox hard drive

    You are absolutely right…when the product is good enough there are many takers even paying a premium.Iphone is awesome and I am sure Ipad will also pick up…nice discussion with genuine concerns here,

    Reply
  69. Brad Fallon

    I have a book I would like to distribute for free and would like to know how to submit the book. I know where the podcasting application is, but they don't seem to have a ebook application yet.

    Reply

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