iPad Blows Kindle Out Of The Water – But Amazon’s Kindle App Is Best iPad Reader…

A tale of two eBooks: A quick side-by-side photo of Kindle and iPad in the same lighting conditions – quite acceptable light for reading a paper book or on the iPad, but a real strain for Kindle reading.

The Bottom Line: Since I got my iPad, I find reading books on it so good that I can no longer bear to use my Kindle – although the Kindle app is the best eBook reader on the iPad, and the only one I use. Picking up the Kindle – after using the iPad for several weeks – is like stepping back into the Dark Ages of eBooks – a small-screen world of poor contrast, in which you can read comfortably only in perfect, bright lighting. It looks somehow pathetic alongside the iPad. You can never go back home again…

Doubts Resolved: My only doubt about the iPad, before using one myself, was whether Apple’s text rendering would be good enough at the resolution of the iPad – or whether I would miss ClearType. The answer’s unequivocal. The text rendering is great – so much better than Kindle – and I don’t miss ClearType at all.

I had always believed that our invention of ClearType was a brilliant Band-Aid for the problem of low-resolution displays, back in 1998, but that it was a technology with an expiration date. At some point, increasing screen resolution would obviate the need for it.

However, I expected that it would take screen resolutions of 150ppi (pixels per inch) or more to make ClearType redundant. Apple’s display technology on MacBooks, and now the iPad, at 133ppi, is good enough that it’s no longer needed. And that raises a whole raft of issues about the value of future investments in font hinting.

Alfred North Whitehead

Alfred North Whitehead (1861 – 1947), an English mathematician who became a philosopher, once famously said that the entire development of Western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato.

When the history of reading on screens is written, it might well be seen as a series of footnotes to the iPad. Yes, we’ve had other eBook devices before now. And yes, the Kindle broke new ground with long battery life using the eInk technology. But as I said in an earlier post, eInk is essentially a backward-looking technology, too slavishly bound to emulating paper, and it’s an evolutionary dead-end.

The iPad, with a crisp, bright high-resolution screen capable of handling color and video, yet with acceptable battery life, has moved us out of the Dark Ages. It’s the first eBook device I’ve seen that really feels like it’s changed the world. I vastly prefer it to paper.

The emergence of the iPad does not necessarily mean that Amazon will lose out. The company which pioneered online book sales did a great job on the Kindle application for the iPad, which is definitely my favorite eBook app – in fact, it’s the only one I find myself using. It looks fantastic on my iPad – my “Library” looks like a shelf of “real” books, with high-quality, color covers. And Amazon’s Kindle bookstore is far superior to any of the others.

There are still issues which the Kindle app – and all other eBook apps I’ve seen – need to address if they are to truly match the readability of well-set type on paper. It’s all do-able, there’s zero rocket science involved. It’s simply the case that the companies creating eBook readers have not made the investments required to completely nail the issues. All the readers can certainly be improved. There’s work still to be done.

The main problems with the Kindle hardware device are these:

First, the iPad screen makes Kindle look incredibly dated – and cheap. I know, Kindle is a lot cheaper, and eInk is more readable in bright sunlight. But honestly – how much of your reading do you do in bright sun? In any other light conditions, the iPad wins hands-down, with its clear, bright display, which is also capable of displaying great video and animation. At night, reading in bed, there’s just no contest. With Kindle, I need a light. With iPad, I can read for hours without disturbing Tanya. And its larger screen also gives more real estate, and feels less cramped than the Kindle. It’s worth the difference in cost, by a long way.

Second, the iPad does a lot more than just let you read books. I find myself popping out to the Web to check a fact, or get more information. I use it to play videos, check my email. I even use it as an emergency cellphone (using Skype). Flipboard is an excellent way of checking a few news sites, my Facebook page, etc., all at the same time.

I refuse to pay a data charge of $25 a month or more. So I use only the WiFi connection. I figure that if I need to make an emergency call, I’m always able to find a Starbucks, or a Borders Books…

I’ve reached the point where I’d be glad to ditch thousands of paper- and hard-backed books from my bookshelves. I’d rather have them all on an iPad. More in future posts.


34 thoughts on “iPad Blows Kindle Out Of The Water – But Amazon’s Kindle App Is Best iPad Reader…

  1. Alain Pierrot

    Good to read you on these topics again, thanks! — and the good news is that there's more to come.I do hope you'll help developers, manufacturers and readers understand where "All the readers can certainly be improved. There's work still to be done."An up to date to do list would certainly be a useful contribution

  2. Bill Hill

    @ Alain: One of the reasons I haven't been as prolific in recent months is because of a certain reluctance to continue acting as a free consultant to the industry. I spend a great deal of time and effort writing every blog post, and hopefully draw on decades of writing, thinking and research. I have had zero return from this effort, except some continuing visibility. It has never earned me one cent, although developers, manufacturers and readers have publicly acknowledged the benefits of my extensive writing on onscreen reading over the years.That's not petulant, merely practical. Charitable work is good, but doesn't pay the bills.@ Trant: "Apple's own sub-pixel rendering" is ClearType using a different rendering strategy. When we invented ClearType in 1998, a major patent cross-license agreement was still in place between Microsoft and Apple. This was of course a two-way exchange. Apple has never acknowledged any Microsoft contribution to its "own sub-pixel rendering" – and why should it? However, there WAS no Apple sub-pixel rendering being used to sharpen onscreen type prior to ClearType.More than a decade ago, given the comparatively low-resolution LCD displays commonly in use at that time, Microsoft's ClearType rendering strategy gave better and much sharper text on screen. As well as the sub-pixels themselves, we used the capabilities of hinting TrueType fonts specifically for ClearType rendering to give extra sharpness. Type experts will be aware that font hinting involves deliberately distorting the theoretically-correct rendering of glyph outlines in screen pixels to make the rendering more readable in the "practical world" of low-res displays. This strategy will be obvious to anyone studying the extensive collection of ClearType patents granted to Microsoft, and published documents such as "Now Read This" – the book describing the work of designing and building the collection of "ClearType fonts" which first shipped with Windows and Office some years ago.Apple's strategy did not use such hinting improvements, which meant blurriness at lower resolutions, although it does render onscreen text closer to the glyph shapes in the original fonts (theoretically-correct rendering).However, as resolution increases, the advantage of the "practical" over the "theoretical" approach – which was huge at, say 96ppi – diminishes.Readers may remember the outcry from many Apple users when the company first introduced sub-pixel rendering in MacOS, and their complaints of "blurriness". As I said in the post, I expected it would take screen resolutions >150ppi to remove the last advantages of the "practical" approach.However, the improvements in LCD displays in MacBooks and the iPad are clearly not in increased resolution alone; there are other technological advances in the physical characteristics of the pixels themselves.IMO, Apple's displays have made a breakthrough at 133ppi which I did not expect to see until 150ppi. That might not seem like a big deal – but it's huge.

  3. Alain Pierrot

    @ BillStill sorry no company understood the worth of of your experience and insights.You should have been hired long ago by W3C and contribute, for instance, to html evolution for the benefit of everybody.Best regards,Alain

  4. MadeByMark

    I believe, Bill, that your conclusions might change upon seeing the latest generation of the Kindle. I've carried a Kindle ever since it came out, but I sold mine once I moved to the iPad … and, like you, I've been reading books on the Kindle app ever since.Now, however, my spouse has picked up the new, sleeker, thinner Kindle — which also happens to feature a much-improved e-ink screen. The text is crisp and sharp; the screen looks much more like a printed page, and is very readable, even in dim light.I confess that, as I wrestle with my heavier, larger, thicker iPad while reading in bed, I've become a little envious of the new Kindle … and plan to buy one soon!Give it a try.

  5. Scott

    Bill, there seems to be a loose consensus that the Kindle app offers a better reading experience (and much better store, as you note) on the iPad than iBooks and other alternatives.I just finished reading my first book on the iPad using iBooks, an experience I greatly enjoyed. However, I am having a lot of trouble finding DRM-free ePub files to read on the iPad. I'm *very* hesitant to spend money buying Kindle books that are both encumbered with DRM and in a proprietary format.What's your take on this? Don't you fear that you're buying books that you won't be able to read in 10 years? The kind of aesthetic pleasure and social benefit that we will lose when replacing our wonderfully stuffed bookshelves with electronic books should, at the very least, be replaced with the benefit of never loosing or having to give away a book that one has read. DRM'd ebook files, I fear, don't offer this benefit in the long run.

  6. Chris

    I was under the impression that the new Kindle has an improved display with better contrast. I suppose you don't think it's a big enough difference and the comparison with a Kindle 2 is fair enough?

  7. detayls

    Bill,Good post. Have you tried the other two major apps on the iPad? The Nook app and the iBooks app both do side-by-side display on my iPad and I find them very usable.How could I tell if their rendering is inferior to the Kindle app, which does not do side-by-side display.David

  8. PRW

    Sorry, but if I read on an iPad or any other LCD display too long, my eyes start to lose their ability to focus. Doesn't happen with books — or with a Kindle. But I admit that I have a DX. So I have an iPad, but its the Kindle that I carry with me.

  9. Yaniel Cantelar

    I'm a big Apple and iPad fan, have read countless books on my iPhone as well. Recently I decided to buy an eBook reader and was deciding between a Nook or an iPad. The reading in bright light is an issue for me, I live in Miami and enjoy reading while at the beach. Also, I find it more comfortable to use a book light to read on the Nook at night, versus a backlit display like the iPad. Apart from that, the Nook already feels heavy, the iPad really pushes the comfort level.While the iPad absolutely is the superior device all around, for strictly reading, I prefer eInk.

  10. Anonymous

    Wow, I didn't know that Apple also uses MS technology here! Could you elaborate why you think the Kindle app is superior compared to others? I understand they have the best selection and lowest prices but the app itself seems awkward (and ugly, if you care) compared to iBooks, Kobo and the like.

  11. Ryan

    Nice, but how does it compare to an actual book in that light?It's also worth noting that the current Kindle has a far higher contrast than the old one.You'd probably like reading ebooks on the Tapwave Zodiac. It's a palm-based device with a fantastic backlit screen. Been using mine for ebooks since end of 2003.

  12. Jack Baty

    I enjoy reading on both. The differences that matter to me have little to do with screen resolution. I find the Kindle much easier to *use* and hold than the iPad, especially when reading in bed. The iPad is too big and heavy. I also prefer reading on the Kindle exactly because it doesn't do anything else. Every 10 minutes on the iPad I find myself checking mail, Twitter, etc.The fabled 7" iPad might be perfect!

  13. Evan Jensen

    That last set of comments- about data charges and hotspots -these are exactly my thoughts, and why I no longer HAVE a cell phone plan. Just a pay-per-min phone in case of emergencies. Otherwise, Skype on the iPod Touch.And it's nice to hear someone not lamenting the switch from "reflective" to "illuminated" surfaces.

  14. Anonymous

    > I was under the impression> that the new Kindle has> an improved display with> better contrast. Better, but the difference is negligible compared to the LED-backlit IPS LCD display on iPad.The fundamental issue with iPad versus Kindle is that our expectations with regards to displays versus paper have changed. The version of a document on a bright color display is the "real" version now, not the paper version. The iPad shows us digital things the way they really are, not an imitation or converted version of them.A way to see this clearly is photography. When you change your camera from chemical to digital, you shouldn't keep printing onto chemical paper. Digital photos are made out of RGB light. They're stored as Red Green Blue numbers plus a color space. So you need digital paper that can show RGB light with the color space of the photo preserved. That is iPad. Viewing a digital photo on it is true digital printing. The photo you view on iPad is the real photo, not an imitation of it in another medium.

  15. pauldwaite

    Could you expound on what you prefer in the Kindle iPad app as compared to iBooks?I use Kindle a lot more because the Kindle Store actually has some books in it, but I much prefer reading in iBooks. The Kindle app UI feels cluttered and unintuitive in comparison.

  16. Bill Hill

    @Andy: I thought we'd laid all that to rest more than ten years ago. I'm not going over all that old ground again. The US Patent Office – which had every bit of prior art that we, and they, could find – obviously disagreed with you. I don't know how many ClearType patents Microsoft has had granted by now, but I know it's well over 30, and could be closer to 50.

  17. Bill Hill

    @ pauldwaite:Because the Kindle Store actually has some books in it is definitely the strongest argument. And the Amazon book-buying process is so familiar it's a no-brainer.In terms of UI and rendering, there's not much to choose between any of the reader apps yet. Other readers may have slightly better UI, but once I'm in a book – which is 99+% of the time I spend in the app, I don't care.I've read a lot of books since I got my iPad.

  18. Bill Hill

    @ everyone who's talked about the higher contrast of the new Kindle:Doesn't matter. The game has changed. I'll talk about that in my next post, which I've already begun. It may take me a few days to complete it.

  19. bj

    I have an iPad and love it. One of the reason's I bought it was to use as an eReader.For me, this was not such a great experience. I had to turn the brightness way down to ease eye strain on long reads, and the glossy reflective surface causes a lot of problems when I try to read on the train to work.It was reading on the iPad (my first eReader) that prompted my interest in a dedicated reader, and I recently bought a Kindle 3. I have to say that it leaves the iPad for dead. Its light enough to hold comfortably, and the text is as clear and sharp as newsprint, and equally easy on the eyes.Of course, its *only* a reader, and not good for much else (despite now having a browser). I still use my iPad for a lot of other things, and even do some reading on it, but its hard to go back. Perhaps it would be different with a 'Retina' display, but the back-lighting would still be a problem for me. There is a bright future in tablet computers with color displays, Internet, social media and multi-media capabilities, but I think books and the journeys through the imagination via simple written word will never disappear. For that a device designed solely for reading will inevitably be better.

  20. MadeByMark

    While it's true the Kindle 3 has greater contrast and higher resolution, the display is not the only factor to consider.The display, the weight (or lack of it!) of the device, the size (paperback small!) of the device, and the ability to both hold and operate the device with just one hand while reading — for me, these things combine to make the Kindle 3 more than the sum of its parts. I love my iPad — but I think all these factors combined make the Kindle's reading experience best of class.

  21. Heidi

    I also much prefer reading on the iPad to reading on the Kindle, and I use the Kindle app. The highlighting and notes function works much, much better in the Kindle app than on the Kindle, and the pages turn faster on the iPad, which I like. The backlighting is great when I'm lying down with my daughter while she's going to sleep, and it doesn't hurt my eyes if I turn the brightness all the way down in the Kindle app. I actually didn't realize the Kindle wasn't backlit when I bought it, and was very disappointed.I also have to read a lot of pdfs, and they display beautifully on the iPad (I mostly use GoodReader). While the Kindle can display pdfs, without being able to zoom in they're completely unreadable.My biggest issue with both the Kindle app and the Kindle: no page numbers, which make both useless for academic work–you can't cite a quotation in a paper without a page number.For pleasure reading, though, I love the Kindle app on the iPad.

  22. H. Doug Matsuoka

    My experience reading on the iPad's Kindle app is very similar to yours. I just posted a review of Nicholas Carr's, The Shallows at my blog. The review is more a review of the reading experience on the iPad, though. Could I read a book about how the internet was making us stupid on the pre-eminent internet skateboard of the moment? Short answer: yes. But I've always been a fan of ebooks. A decade ago I bought a Casio EM-500 pda (no phone, no internet) primarily for the purpose of reading .lit format Microsoft Reader ebooks. I was completely befuddled when ebooks didn't immediately take the world by storm. Of course Microsoft's completely bizarre DRM scheme may have had something to do with it. I even have a couple of ebooks published by Scorpius Digital in .lit format. I'll be converting them to Epub and Kindle formats soon…Anyway, good to come upon your blog. Writing the review made me wonder, "whatever happened to Bill Hill?" Google "Bill Hill" and this blog is the first thing that pops up. Glad I found it, I'll be following along.Best, DougP.S. If anyone is interested here's the link to "Surfing The Shallows on an iPad" http://dougnote.blogspot.com/2010/09/surfing-shallows-on-ipad-book-review.html

  23. Crennel

    On the Kindle in dim light, make the font larger. I read a book at an outdoor fireworks display the other night on my Kindle. I couldn't have done that with a paperback. (I usually just bring a book light, but I had forgotten it.)

  24. Eric

    Of Course a backlit screen is going to look better in the dark. But there's all sorts of reasons not to spend any length of time with your eyes focused on a backlit screen as the exclusive light source. And generations of book readers before us already figured out the solution to that reading-in-the-dark problem… turn on a light.Meanwhile, you can't use, much less read, the iPad outside. You can with the Kindle, as you can with real books. So as a reading device, either one of those win hands down over the iPad.Go to any popular park on a nice day. You'll spot a whole lot of people with books. You might spot one or two with a Kindle or Nook. One thing you won't see is iPads.Until and unless someone figures out how to make LCD screens usable in direct sunlight, LCD screens just can't be taken seriously for reading on.

  25. bob

    I have an I-Pad, and love reading on it. My friend tells me the kindle can convert text to voice, so you can listen to a book if needed. Does anyone know if the I-Pad offers this function? If so, how does it work?Thanks for any help.

  26. bob

    I have an I-Pad, and love reading on it. My friend tells me the kindle can convert text to voice, so you can listen to a book if needed. Does anyone know if the I-Pad offers this function? If so, how does it work?Thanks for any help.


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