The iPad May Kill the Kindle, But Amazon Could Still Come Out Ahead: The Only Comparison You Need to Read

If you’re interested in the electronic book craze, but you don’t yet own an e-book reading device, your options just got a lot more complicated. Not only are there a handful of great devices that use electrophoretic screens from Cambridge, MA-based E Ink, such as the Amazon Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and the Sony Reader Daily Edition; now there’s also the Apple iPad, for which there are at least 400 book-related apps, notably Apple’s own iBooks and a superb Kindle app from Amazon. What’s a reader to do?

I could go on for screens and screens about the relative merits of the iPad and the E Ink devices—and I will. But let me cut to the chase. It pains me a little to say it—and it will certainly pain Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Sony—but if you haven’t already bought a Kindle-style device, don’t. You’d be far better off saving up your cash and buying an iPad, even though the low-end iPad, at $499, is almost twice as expensive as the Kindle and the Nook, which cost $259.

Why? Because the iPad offers not only the best e-book reading experience available, but can do thousands of other amazing things too. The Kindle, even if it does connect with Facebook and Twitter now, is just a Kindle.

Now, I’m still a devoted Kindle fan. And even though my own Kindle has probably been feeling neglected since I brought home my iPad on April 3, I want to make it clear that I don’t think current Kindle owners should feel remorseful about their purchases. The Kindle has its advantages and may still be the better choice for some people.

But the simple fact is that the iPad really is almost as magical as Steve Jobs promised it would be, at least in my opinion. It accomplishes the main goal of any handheld e-book device—breaking digital text free of its former imprisonment on the screens of desktop and laptop PCs and presenting it in a more portable, book-like form—while performing quite a few other tricks in the bargain. I don’t think the iPad and the other tablet devices coming behind it will completely kill off the E Ink devices, but it will severely limit their market.

I’m going to run through the a list of areas where the iPad clearly outshines the Kindle, and then I’m going to talk about a couple of ways in which the Kindle still beats the iPad. I think that most of what I’m going to say about the Kindle applies to the other E Ink devices too, but I haven’t spent as much time with the Sony or Barnes & Noble e-readers, so I won’t make any strong claims about them. The bottom line is that Amazon should probably concentrate on marketing e-book content, because there’s no way it can compete with Apple’s hardware.

1. The Screen.

No contest here. The iPad’s screen is obviously larger than the Kindle’s—45 square inches for Apple’s gadget, compared to 17 square inches for Amazon’s—but it’s also got a) color b) animation c) multi-touch. When you download Apple’s iBooks app, you get a free copy of A.A. Milne’s 1926 classic Winnie-the-Pooh, including Ernest H. Shepherd’s original color illustrations, which is quite canny of Apple, because the book shows off the brilliant LCD screen (and is also sure to prompt the children of iPad owners to demand more e-books). Placed next to an iPad, the Kindle looks rather sad. It’s just fine for monochrome graphics—in fact, its electronic-ink screen has a higher effective resolution than the iPad’s—but let’s face it, even the New York Times gave up on black-and-white back in the ’90s.

If your platform has a color screen powered by a speedy graphics chip, that means you can enhance your e-books with video and animation (more on that below). And when you combine animation with a touchscreen, the reading interface itself can be brought to life. On a Kindle, you advance through a book by clicking a physical “next page” button. But on the iPad, you sweep your finger across the page, in a motion that’s pretty much the same as … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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