iPad as a reading device

Guest blog post from Jo Alcock at Evidence Base

The eLibrary team have been kind enough to let me borrow the Kindle and the iPad to test them both out, so I thought the least I could do was write a blog post for them.

I’m a librarian currently working at Evidence Base, so my job isn’t a traditional librarian role. I spend a lot of time out of the office – at meetings, events, etc. and working in various different places (often on the move). I’m actually writing this in one such situation, though I’m just on my way into the office this morning. I’m fortunate enough to have a smartphone, which I make extensive use of whilst I’m out and about. One of the tasks I often end up doing whilst travelling is reading. There is a heck of a lot of reading in my job, and I prefer to use my travelling time doing that. I’ve been printing trees and trees worth of paper, and lugging around stacks of reports/articles, and thought an e reader might be a better option.

I tried the Kindle first, and I have to say I wasn’t that impressed. Admittedly, I borrowed the slightly older model, but it’s still only about a year old and it just felt so clunky. I agree with Mark; being so used to a smartphone, I found it very strange to not have a touchscreen. I also couldn’t get my head round the complicated way you had to convert files and email them to yourself rather than just a simple drag and drop. Having said that, for a fiction reading device I can see it could be really useful – battery life was great and it’s so portable. It’s just not good for reading your own documents or anything other than books really. (NB: If you’re interested in a more detailed review, I wrote a blog post on my own blog about the pros and cons of the Kindle).

So, I tried the iPad. OK, so it’s a shiny shiny device and it’s difficult to not get distracted by all the cool stuff it does, but I’ll try to keep this specific to reading. The first thing to note is that there is much more choice on the iPad. Even with books, you’re not tied into a particular store – you can use the iBooks app, or the Kindle app (which synchronises with your Kindle if you have one), or any number of other apps. And with children’s books there’s loads of variety, even specific interactive picture book apps like Alice (which my cats were fascinated by!).

I subscribe to a lot of RSS feeds and sometimes struggle to keep up with them. I’ve weeded out a lot but there are so many great blogs out there, so I need to check them regularly to stay on top of them. On the iPad, I used a free RSS app (MobileRSSFree) that synchronised with my Google Reader account. I’ve tried similar apps on my smartphone but it is pretty small for long stretches of reading. I loved being able to read them on the iPad and the app also enabled you to download your feeds and then use it offline. This meant I was able to load up my feeds in the morning and then read them whilst I was out, even without Internet access.

The main purpose of an e reader device for me was being able to store and read my documents. Through a number of different apps I was able to access my Dropbox account – therefore no plugging in or dragging and dropping required. The model I borrowed was wifi only so you do need to do a bit of planning ahead to make sure you have your documents ready before you leave the wifi zone. I used the GoodReader app, which I don’t think is free but it’s not an expensive app. Through this I was able to load documents from my Dropbox, email, online, anywhere really; then I could read them offline. It worked with Word documents, PDFs, and powerpoints. You can manage your files from within the app, and view them full screen for a better reading experience.

And that’s just one aspect of the iPad. I found it a pleasure to type on, I loved the interface as it’s so intuitive, there are some brilliant productivity apps (for document creation/editing, accessing Sharepoint, to do lists and more), and it’s also nice to have a bit of brain stimulation or relaxation with the puzzles and games. It’s so multipurpose (even cross stitching apps!) and I loved that aspect of it.

Is it a cool bit of kit to help you in your day-to-day working life? Yes.  Are the claims that it is too expensive fair? Possibly, if you compared it to the cost of a netbook. Will I miss it? Yes, I think so, particularly for RSS reading. Do I want an iPad? Oh definitely.

Down the rabbit hole: from click, touch to drag


Recently the Wired Magazine ran a comparison on two portable e-book readers – the new Kindle from Amazon, and the Sony Touch. They came down slightly in favour of the Kindle – with its superior display and Whispernet Wireless connectivity.

But what struck me was that the smartphone users I showed these devices to, immediately touched the screen to load the book  – functionality which you get on the Sony but not the Kindle which uses a joystick (see our ‘home’ videos that demonstrate the difference : Sony TouchAmazon Kindle ).

We know that the sales of smart phones have rocketed – and as they become more and more widespread amongst students in the next few years, the disconnect between our traditional web and commerical mobile patforms will be become more and more obvious – one of the biggest is that of interaction : touching, dragging, moving the ‘stuff ‘ on the screen that you are looking at.

The coming of the iPad only accelerates this drive, to react with, to converse with, annotate, share a text : so that in an academic context learning is no longer a solitary experience.  (See how the page-turn works on an iPad here, using their iBooks app.)

Google (and other’s) answer to the iPad are on their way – so as the market for mobile reading expands this may prove interesting for established aggregators in the e-book field such asMyiLibrary, who are already moving away from their existing pdf reader because this form of delivery does not work well with mobile devices.

The race down the rabbit-hole is on ; not to replace the printed book but to make reading/teaching/discovering academic texts more tactile, and more interactive.

As Alice says, ‘what is the use of a book, without pictures or conversations’ ?