Preliminary Thoughts on the iPad

So I did, after a minor delay (produced by the Apple truck not showing up to the bookstore on time), get my hands on my new iPad. I spent most of day 1 just getting it set up, figuring out which of my iPhone apps I wanted to put on the iPad, what of my media I wanted to have on it, what new iPad-specific applications I wanted, and the like. The most complex part of that set of transactions was figuring out how to get my app-specific data onto the iPad; apps that sync directly with desktop or with cloud-based services were pretty easy, but others, not so much. And then I spent some of the end of day 1 and much of day 2 playing with the thing itself.

I haven’t attempted much that’s new with it yet, mostly just poked about in the various media players and readers. And if I wind up using the iPad for nothing other than that, I’ll be very happy with it. The native iTunes video player, “Videos” (which I was at first a little surprised to see has been separated out from “iPod”) is as great as you’d expect — load it up with some mp4 video and go. And so far the streaming video players — the free ABC player is the only one I’ve tested as yet — aren’t bad. I had two issues with the ABC player, one of which had to do with the fact that my wireless bandwidth was being used for other purposes at the time, so the player could only get a smallish bit of the pipe; the other, however, is a little more troubling, as the player doesn’t seem to allow you to back up and rewatch a minute or two if you missed something. Whatever, though: it’s a great quality screen, and the apps will provide access to lots of stuff as long as you’ve got wireless available.

One of the first things I downloaded, of course, was the iBooks app, and I of course installed the Kindle app as well. iBooks is pretty nifty, as you’ve seen in the demos; you have a nice shelf for all your books, which spins around to take you to the store. The store’s selection is fairly limited at the moment, though I’m sure that will grow. Even better, importing any DRM-free EPUB book into iTunes will synchronize it with the iPad, so it can be filled with Project Gutenberg goodness. The Kindle app (which now comes in a universal version for both iPhone and iPad) of course has selection in its favor over the iBooks store, not to mention automatically synchronizing with the app on your iPhone as well as the desktop version. One thing that iBooks has in its favor, however, is layout. As some folks have noted, when you hold the iPad in portrait mode, you see one page of the book, which you turn by swiping — and the back of the page you turn is blank. But if you hold the iPad in landscape mode, you get the full recto/verso of the book, which I’ll confess to liking quite a lot. I recognize that this is part of the rear-view mirrorism of “iBooks,” but it’s pleasing to the eye to have right and left facing pages as an option, and to have pages turn rather than slide to the next screen.

I absolutely see myself focusing more and more of my book buying on this device, for no other reason than convenience: I’m about to head off for a year’s sabbatical on the other side of the country, and if I can minimize the number of books I need to ship, more power to me. What I’m going to find myself considering over the next weeks, though, is what kind of books I want to buy digitally, and what I’ll still want to have in print. The hard copy issue for me isn’t the “book in the bathtub” thing, though I will confess to having a long-standing room-full-of-books-on-shelves fetish; it’s more about the specifics of the ways that I read, and particularly the ways that I mark texts up.

The iBooks app does allow for text highlighting; double-tap on a word, stretch the highlighted area to contain the passage you want to highlight, and click — well, click “bookmark,” which is seriously counterintuitive. Bookmark? What happens, though, is that the passage gets highlighted (in a niftily hand-drawn looking way); tapping on the highlight then lets you change its color. The reason these highlighted passages get referred to as “bookmarks,” I think, is that if you call up the menu on a page you’re reading and click the table of contents button, you’ll see a “bookmarks” option, which lists all of the passages you’ve highlighted, along with the date and time you highlighted them, and the color you highlighted them in. So the seriously anal among you could develop color-coded annotation practices. Not that I would do any such thing.

What the Kindle app has over that, of course, is the ability to create pop-up annotations in addition to highlights, something seriously lacking in iBooks as yet. But what I miss in both cases is the feeling of actually marking the page itself, of responding to the text in its margins in a way that remains visible. I cannot help but assume that one of these readers will develop stylus-markup ability soon, and whichever does may well earn my loyalty. (And purchases.)

The last thing that I’ll say on this for now is that I also purchased the GoodReader app, which allows for the import and reading of a range of other kinds of documents, most notably pdfs. It’s got a great reader-like interface for those kinds of documents — including, say, pdf versions of books made available by publishers. But like iBooks and Kindle, it doesn’t have good markup capability.

So, as I suspected, the iPad is thus far a great media consumption device — which is great, because I consume a lot of media. But what it allows me to do with that media is thus far a bit limited. I’m counting on the app developers out there to start pushing on those limits, to find more flexible ways for users to write back to the texts they’re reading.

5 thoughts on “Preliminary Thoughts on the iPad

  1. Have you ever watched a student highlight every line in a textbook they’re reading? It’ll be less cringe-worthy on an iPad.

    Of course, my students have largely dropped the pretense of buying, let alone reading, textbooks.

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