Saturday, January 30, 2010

Senator, I Know Saint George. And You Are No Saint George.

And so, it's here. And as usual, the fanboys are getting like Hans Gruber towering over Nakatomi: "when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept - for there were no more worlds to conquer".

Perhaps if Hans Gruber had been a more literate man, he would have realised that that's one of those lines that people use when they want to sound edgeycated, but that bears only passing resemblance to the original text. But let's be honest, most lightweight McIntellectual readers don't care. They have their little quotable lines that make them sound smart ("Alas, poor Yorrock! I knew him well!") and they can move on, happy in the knowledge that they've thoroughly impressed the girl with dyed red hair and thick-rimmed glasses sitting across from them at Starbucks with their literary abilities, in between talking about how subversive and confucian South Park and The Daily Show are. Those are the people who are crowing over the iPad being the "Kindle Killer".

Give me - as my Kindle-loving friend Paul Higginbotham would say - a small, personal break.

Does the iPad look impressive? Well... yeah. In a way. I have an iPod Touch, and it's an amazing little device. Restricted in some areas, sure, but bloody powerful given its size. I can listen to podcasts, watch videos, dial around live radio, catch up on tv episodes, and I can check my email or Twitter or Facebook to my heart's content, all on something that's small and light enough to carry in my pocket (or my mouth, when I need both hands). I was knocked over by it, and continue to be knocked over a good six months after it floated gaily into my life. Does that mean that a really really big iPod touch with a bigger screen is going to be better? No... it means it's still going to be a pretty amazing device, but points deducted for being so damned cumbersome. And not so easily carried orally.

Not so long ago, I downloaded the free Kindle app to my iPod. I don't use it a whole lot, and I only ever really download free books onto it. Partly because I'm a cheapskate, and partly because it's just so tiring to use as an eBook reader. As you can imagine, for a cheapskate such as myself, the thought of spending money on a book that's going to give me a headache when I read it hardly fills me with joy. The iPod screen lends itself well to informational use, quick scanning of websites, the odd check of TweetDeck, that sort of thing. Even video is easy to watch - the screen isn't too small to have to squint and it's sharp enough for detail. But for plan old text...? No. Not on your nelly. There's something about a dense block of words (any font, any size) mixed with a backlit screen, that makes you go boz-eyed after a while. It just doesn't work. Exponentially so in low light.

The Kindle, on the other hand, is astonishing. This e-ink thing that it uses... I don't understand it. I can't grasp the technology and I have no idea how it works. All I know is that it does. It's so incredibly easy on the eyes that in some ways, it's even better than printed text. There's no fold shadows, no dog-eared corners where some philistine has marked their place (really - mix in a receipt or something), no smeared words or missing pages leading to life-changing frustration trying to find out who Johnny Oxford pointed his finger at in "Lady Don't Fall Backwards". Oh sure, the iPad can compete measure for measure when it comes to things like being able to wirelessly download books at speed, bookmarking, note-taking and highlighting the rude bits for a later re-visit. Where it fails is the biggest part of reading a book - readability.

So, don't expect the Kindle to roll over and its many fans to convert. It ain't gonna happen. Will the iPad be a roaring success, and its eBook reader be used daily to find miniscule portions of the classics so that pseudointellectuals can impress each other? You betcha. Is the war on? Absolutely. So, iPad... Lead on, MacDuff. Let's see which device real readers think is better. To me, the answer seems elementary, my dear Watson.


LeeO said...

well said my fiend! ;-)

wuMMle said...

I agree 100% though in my case I have a Sony prs505 and the excellent calibre open source software to manage my ebooks e-ink is the best for Reading :)

PumpkinSpider said...

Hey, I'm a "girl with dyed red hair and thick-rimmed glasses" - but I prefer Costa Coffee to Starbucks, and to be honest, if you misquote at me I'll either ignore you and laugh at you behind your back later, or I'll frown, sigh, and then correct you in a disappointed manner in front of everyone, depending on how much of an arse you're being...

Spike Nesmith said...

you've got red hair and glasses, but you're not one of THOSE red hair and glasses types.

Besides, it's fine to get things wrong - it's why you quote them in the first place! =D

Paul said...

Did someone say red hair and glasses?

Seriously, Spike, I think if you pick up an iPad and try it just once you'll be asking to "Play it again, Sam."