[By Duncan McLeod]
When Apple announced the iPad tablet computer earlier this year, some analysts wondered if that spelt the end for Amazon.com’s Kindle e-reader. On the contrary, the next-generation Kindle is flying out of Amazon’s warehouses.
Bob Collymore, the newly appointed CEO of Kenya’s largest mobile operator, Safaricom, keeps badgering me (entirely good-naturedly) on Twitter to get an iPad. It will change my life, he insists, and I should stop resisting the inevitable.
But resisting I am. Don’t get me wrong. I think the iPad is an amazing device, and it’s probably the best tablet computer in what is still a relatively limited field of competitors.
Reading iPad-customised magazines like Wired on the iPad is a wonderful experience. Articles often have interactive graphics and embedded videos. Even the advertising, with its multimedia elements, is engaging. And some of the other apps available in the iTunes Store are, I’ll admit, very clever.
But I’m still not buying one. At least not yet. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about buying technology products — and Apple’s computers and gadgets are no exception — it is this: never invest in the first generation of a product.
Imagine, for example, if you’d bought the first version of Apple’s ultra-portable MacBook Air laptop. Sure, it was as sexy as hell, but users were soon pulling their hair out in frustration with its underpowered processor. Being an early adopter has its drawbacks.
By this time next year, Apple will have refreshed the iPad, no doubt adding more options to the line-up, and adding cool new features, some of which, like a front-facing camera for video calling, should have been there in the first place. I’ll bide my time until version 2.0.
It may not be nearly as sexy as the iPad — a fact Collymore likes to point out to me — but Amazon’s new-generation Kindle e-reader is one of the most practical devices I’ve owned.
No, it doesn’t have a large, full-colour screen like the iPad. What it does have is a display designed with one purpose in mind: reading for extended periods. Using electronic ink rather than a backlit display, you can read for hours without getting eyestrain.
But it’s the price that really makes the Kindle a no-brainer. At US$139 for a Wi-Fi-only version and $189 for one with a cellular aerial, you’ll still achieve a fast return on your investment, even with taxes and shipping factored in.
Given that e-books are significantly cheaper than their paper equivalents sold in local bookshops, the investment in the Kindle soon pays for itself.
The iPad doesn’t appear to have slowed Kindle’s momentum at all. The new-generation e-reader has sold more in its first 12 weeks on sale than any previous generation of the device. In the past three months, Amazon’s share price has climbed 43%, outstripping Apple’s more pedestrian 18%.
Instead of slowing Kindle sales, Apple’s iPad may be having the opposite effect. People buy the iPad thinking they’ll use it as an e-reader, only to discover it’s not an ideal platform for electronic books.
It’s early days for tablet computers. Perhaps Apple or engineers at some other hi-tech company will develop a hybrid display that allows users to flick quickly between a full-colour backlit display and e-ink.
Until that day comes, the Kindle and the iPad are more complementary than antagonistic.
There’s little doubt I will purchase a tablet computer some day — perhaps the iPad 2 or the BlackBerry PlayBook, or some other device running Google’s Android. Even then, though, my Kindle will probably still be my device of choice when I want to read for any length of time.