I love to read. If you frequent our site and have read our many ebook reader reviews, you know this. After getting an advanced degree in English, I dragged around the English major's albatross for years: thousands of books. We're talking 30 cartons of books that followed me for each move. That's not cheap cheetos if you're paying movers, since they charge by the pound. Then there was the bookcase obsession that comes with the book thing. And there are the ever-increasingly strong prescription eyeglasses that I bought every two years: a product first of unlucky genes, then copious reading and finally staring at a computer monitor 9 hours per day.
When Sony sent us their first US mainstream e-ink reader, the Sony PRS-500 , I was thus excited. When I actually laid eyes on that surreal, paper-like E Ink display, I was sold. This thing held hundreds of books, only needed charging once a week and it was lighter and smaller than any hardback book. Dude! My eyes didn't scream, in fact they loved me for the first time in years. That was back in the fall of 2006: yes folks, these things have been around that long, even if they didn't take off until 2009.
The third generation Kindle, shipping August 27.
In 2009, ereaders hit the high tech billboard charts. It's hard to guess why since the technology and pricing were largely the same in 2008, and the ebook selection large. Perhaps it was Google making a half million public domain classics available for easy download in ePub format. After a few years of Kindle sales, you were likely to see a few on any given airline flight, providing the in your face marketing the otherwise online only product lacked (it's now available in Target stores, but I've yet to see it displayed nicely in our local Targets). Sony had released a slew of them, even some with touch screens. Barnes & Noble got in the act, enticing their bricks and mortar clientele with in-store demos and resident experts. Put it all together, and you have the ebook craze of 2009 and 2010. We saw more new ebook reader prototypes at CES 2010 than we'd seen in all the previous years combined.
The grandaddy Sony PRS-500 from 2006.
Ruh-oh, but then comes the iPad. Pundits postulated that would sign the E Ink readers' collective death warrant. Apple was touting their iBooks and making deals with book publishers that eventually drove up the price of popular commercial titles (thanks to the switch to agency model pricing). In a quarter, Apple has sold 3 million or more iPads, and iBooks now works on iOS4 iPhones too. But the iTunes bookstore is a mess. Wait, there is no real bookstore yet--it's a miss-mosh of titles, apps, comic books and other stuff in one 2,500 item stew pot. We assume that once Apple gets more titles and book sales/clicks they'll provide some organization as they do with iTunes music and TV shows. And don't forget that DRM, the dirty word that has all disappeared from digital music is livin' large in ebook-land. Apple has created yet another DRM format that only works on Apple's iP---- products. Meanwhile much of the E ink world has moved to the more open standard of DRM, Adobe ePUB. That means you can buy a book on the Sony bookstore and read it on your B&N nook, Kobo Reader and Sony Reader. OK, so this gives me an iHeadache, but I'm not iBlind yet.
I persevere and find a way to get my personal books on my iPad. I love my iPad you see: it has a phenomenal color touch screen, it's great for couch web surfing (sans Flash but I can live with that as I wait for an HTML5 world compete with video) and man the games are fun! Apple's iBooks app is one heck of a piece of eye candy that does an amazing job of replicating a real printed book's look and feel (though that might not be the best way to read electronically). There's Kindle for iPad, and B&N's Nook Reader for iPad so I can read ebooks I've purchased with those stores on my iPad instead of a dedicated ereader. I no longer need a book light to read in a somber room.
A little voice in my head (centered just behind my tired eyes), says "remember how LCDs make your eyes tired, how you swore you wouldn't stare at one recreationaly when you already spend at least 9 hours a day in front of one for work". I ignored the voice, and the advice of my last 3 eye doctors who reprimanded me for endlessly staring at LCDs, and who told me that my dry eye and rapidly increasing myopia was the result of hours of staring at backlit displays at close range. I thought that sharp IPS display and lowering the backlight could make it all work.
Nope. I read for 1 to 2 hours a day for several days on my beloved iPad. My eyes bled. OK, I exaggerate hideously, but my vision blurred, my eyes teared and burned. Dude, it totally sucked. I wanted to slim down to one does-it-all device, heavy and expensive though it is, but I couldn't.
I guess I'm not alone, In a survey, around 50% of iPad owners said they no longer wanted to buy a dedicated ereader. That's a surprising statistic given the number of major ebookstores' content available for iPad, the lovely hardware and that these buyers had already shelled out a lot of money for their iPad. You might have expected that 75% or more were happy using the iPad as their book reading device.
Now if you're 20 and have reasonably good vision, take this with a grain of salt. You guys can still read the teenie tiny print on the side of house paint cans. If you want interactive books, then the iPad will likely lead the pack. If you're into comics and magazines more than dense text, the iPad has its allure. But if you're not a young whippersnapper and do long form recreational reading, there's a reason why the latest Kindle models are stirring so much interest and why ebook reader sales are still booming. Oh, the other reason is price: the iPad runs $500 to $829, E Ink readers run from $139 up.
-------------------- Lisa Gade Editor in Chief, MobileTechReview
The iPad is making me iBlind: why E Ink eBook readers still rock