I pad, you pad, (s)he pads – we all pad

An iPad tsunami is upon us, judging by the number of articles about how the iPad is becoming the device of choice for reading, or raving about it in one way or another. iPad seems the wrong term judging by some of these articles. The way it is dominating and obliterating all other competitors suggests it should be called the iStomp. Anyhow, the technical press can make it seem that everyone is ipadding.
I confess, I have succumbed and bought myself one. It certainly is a nice piece of equipment that makes reading easy on the eye – I like the easy way you can make the screen image bigger and smaller – be it text, images, or whatever. The touchscreen interface is generally very good – it is a relief to be free from keyboard and mouse. I haven’t yet tried using it for substantial amounts of typing.
I do find it a bit heavy in the hand: trying to hold it in one hand while reading is just a little uncomfortable after a while; it is much heavier than a typical paperback or magazine. It’s more portable physically than a laptop yes, but that doesn’t mean you can carry it everywhere. I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking it everywhere with me where I might want to take something to read. Carrying a cheap paperback around casually or leaving it propped up in a bar or cafe temporarily is fine but I can’t see myself doing that with a piece of kit worth several hundred pounds.
My iPad
Much reaction to the iPad is very positive – see these recent posts from a librarian, a writer, an academic, a scientist and a clinician. I liked what the academic said (though not sure what it means exactly): “It connects you to your physical and intellectual surroundings, rather than alienating you”. This finds an echo in the experience of the clinician, who said the iPad was “useful for communicating with patients. patients commented it was the first time they understood their disease”. Stanford medical school is giving away iPads to medical students: they are “distributing iPads to the incoming class of 91 first-year medical school and master’s of medicine students during orientation in August as part of a trial program to integrate the mobile device into academics”. Lucky beggars! Stanford says that the core goal of the iPad initiative is to improve the student learning experience. The University of Muenster is trying something similar on a smaller scale.
The iPad is not just a device for reading or consuming content, but that is one of its big attractions. Back in April Martin Robbins highlighted the potential of the iPad for scientific communication:

“The iPad may be one of the nicest ways of reading scientific literature around, at least for some people …A research paper could become more than something you just write a few notes on and file away, it could become a living thing, a platform for exploring the findings presented.”

Martin Fenner has also been captivated by the capabilities of the iPad for scientific reading. In his review of the iPad app Flipboard he said:

“It can be used out of the box for journals that tweet their table of contents or at least the most interesting papers… also a great tool to follow science blogs… would also work very well to cover the blogging and tweeting of scientific conferences.”

I particularly liked Flipboard for the way it makes content browsable. My biggest complaint about e-journals and e-newspapers is the poor browsing features.
The popular package Papers is already available in an iPad version and Mendeley soon will be. The BMJ hopes to be available on the iPad by the summer and I keep seeing announcements from journals with iPad plans or now reviews of books in iPad versions (the latter says “Could this be a new era where information really does get to the bedside? The short answer is yes”).
Most of the discussion about the benefits of iPads and e-book readers is anecdotal, but we are starting to see some research, and it is not positive. Jakob Nielsen, the guru of web usability, compared a printed book, an iPad and a Kindle 2. He found that It takes longer to read books on a Kindle 2 or an iPad versus a printed book. His sample size was quite small so it would be interesting to see if anyone can replicate these findings. An interesting Taiwanese study compared an (unspecified) e-reader with printed books, again in a student population, and found that “reading an E-book caused significantly higher eye fatigue than reading a C-book. This is mainly due to the low contrast and resolution of the display for an E-book”. A Hong Kong study again looked at students’ use of ebooks from a variety of viewpoints. Again they noted problems with the readability of the screens. On the other hand, a study of US students looked at the Kindle and found that “the portability of the device and its convenience of use anywhere and any time is pivotal for enhancing the students’ reading experience and outweighs the limitations of the device’s usability”.
Of course, it is not just about readability – ebooks can be used in different ways and may link with electronic workflows better than printed books. Institutional attitudes to ebooks may also be important. A recent UK survey suggests that ebook adoption is slowly taking off in UK University libraries though Andy Powell in his blog post about the survey suggests

“My suspicion is that we are at a point in the hype curve around e-books that has tended to push librarians (most of the respondents to this survey were librarians) into thinking, ‘we ought to be doing something here and we probably should expect a sharp rise in uptake’ even though general demand from the user community (i.e. students and teaching staff) remains quite low to date.”

The Scholarly Kitchen blog has something to say too, in a blog post entitled It’s the End of the Book As We Know It – and I Feel Fine they say that there are various trends “tearing through the land of the printed book”, and point out how the book business is changing as a result. They suggest that book content will follow the model of music, with electronic consumption meaning much easier availability. I am not convinced we are at that point yet, as e-book readers are nothing like as widespread as mp3 players.
The iPad is going to be a significant device for reading e-content, but there will be other devices soon. I bought my iPad after reading an article suggesting that the competitors had missed the boat and the iPad would be the only game in town for a long time. I’m not so sure of that after reading further reports.
The last word though must go to McSweeny’s though, for their incisive analysis which concludes that ‘the newspaper’ is the best e-reader on the market!
Thanks to Oliver Obst and Eric Rumsey for all their tweets on ebooks which have been very useful in preparing this.

About Frank Norman

I am a retired librarian. I spent 40 years working in biomedical research libraries.
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25 Responses to I pad, you pad, (s)he pads – we all pad

  1. Richard P. Grant says:

    All I know is that we drooled on yours at the Betjeman Arms a month ago.

  2. Tom Webb says:

    How do you find the screen for reading in bright light etc.? One of the big selling points of the Sony e-Reader and the Kindle has been the ‘revolutionary e-ink’ or whatever it’s called, which apparently pretty accurately replicates the experience of reading off paper (as well as using hardly any power). The backlit screen in the iPad has been called a retrograde step in this respect – is that fair? (Disclaimer – I’ve recently bought a few e-books, and am almost certainly going to crack and by an iPad to read them on soon!)

  3. Frank Norman says:

    Richard – I’ve cleaned that all up now πŸ˜‰ Actually I have to keep cleaning the screen as it gets grubby fingerprints after use.
    Tom – I’ve not actually used it in bright light. Mostly I use it indoors so I can’t report direct experience. I did read something a while back which claimed that other features of the screen compensated for its lack of e-ink. Clive Crook in the FT said it is not as good as the Kindle in bright light, though he still loves it. Lex Friedman in Techworld is pretty positive but doesn’t address the bright light issue.
    A longer review compares Kindles and iPads in a range of conditions and finds iPads not much use in bright light, but better than Kindle in other conditions.

  4. Tom Webb says:

    Thanks for that Frank – so if I’m understanding you right, you’re saying I should definitely go out and buy one straight away then? OK, you’ve convinced me!

  5. Frank Norman says:

    I think that’s about the long and the short of it, yes. Having an iPad will make a major contribution to road safety.
    But don’t assume you will be able to just go and pick one up in the store – there seems to be a long waiting list.

  6. Pream Neote says:

    I love the iPad, probably because I don’t own one and I’m one of those people who go to town just to go into the Apple store and play with the iPad. I eventually leave feeling slightly low on the mood wishing I had the money to buy it (one day..).
    Other than that, the iPad was a huge joke when it was released among my classmates and generally, people were very skeptical about this wonderful piece of art. I noticed that sketicism quickly subsided and was replaced by an appreciation.
    One of my problems -one of which you have touched on in your blog – is the end of the book as we know it. I find that really sad. I love to hold books in my hand, to have that feeling of paper between your fingers as you turn the pages. And you’re right on saying that if you were sitting in a cafe, it would be best to be reading a paperback rather than your iPad.
    On a finishing note, I wish all Universities hand out iPads to everyone.

  7. Henry Gee says:

    The iPad is Not The Death Of The Book As We Know It (and neither is the Kindle), but it’s certainly very useful when travelling. During a long layover at an airport I came to the end of the eBook I was reading on my iPad. What’s a boy to do? I downloaded another one from the iBookstore, of course. Problem over. Beats carrying around a load of dead tree.

  8. Frank Norman says:

    Pream – I have never had that intense physical connection to printed books. It is the content – words, ideas, pictures (I mean art, of course!) that seem important to me.
    Henry – I agree. “Book” is actually a vague term. Dan Visel points out that a “book” can mean many things: A cookbook, a comic book, a history book and an electronic book are all different. “It would be a mistake to think that these various forms have a single, unified future,” Visel says. “Rather, I think it’s more appropriate to say that there are futures of the book.” He sees some books, such as romances and thrillers, migrating easily to an electronic form.
    Way back in the 1980s, GenBank was a book. Index Medicus used to be published in book form. Current Protocols was issued as looseleaf books. These have all migrated to forms in which they are easier to use (i.e. databases or ebooks).

  9. Mike Fowler says:

    Henry, was your downloaded e-book from the iBookstore cheaper, the same, or more expensive than a deadtree book from the airport shops?
    Has anyone looked into the relative energy consumptions for deadtrees versus e-books? That would be a very interesting comparison.

  10. Henry Gee says:

    @Mike – EBooks are about the same as treebooks on the iBookstore, but in my case the point was moot – the airport at issue was Sao Paolo, and there wasn’t a bookstore, and if there had been, the books would have been in Portuguese. Or maybe Spanish.

  11. Tom Webb says:

    Mike – that would be an interesting comparison, I agree. I am seriously weighing up the potential benefits of moving that bit closer to a paperless office, against importing another power-hungry gadget from China…

  12. Frank Norman says:

    Here’s a collection of links on the eco-friendliness or otherwise of e-books. The first of them (Is E-Reading Really Greener?) suggests a break-even point between 20 and 100 ebooks on the reader.

  13. Tom Webb says:

    Really useful links Frank, thanks.

  14. Kristi Vogel says:

    Those links are very interesting, Frank – clearly there’s not a simple answer to the “which is greener?” question, and individual circumstances make a difference. I would love to buy an iPad – my BIL got one when they first came out, and I was immediately consumed with gadget envy – but I can’t really justify it. I travel very, very little, and most treeware books that I read are borrowed, or purchased used. I don’t intend to move anytime soon, so my books can stay put, and I have plenty of space for them.
    For me, there’s the issue of staring at computer screens for many hours at work and at home, for preparing lectures and manuscripts, and for reading journal articles on Papers. I prefer treeware books and paper knitting patterns as a break from the electronic screens. Also, I have this strange penchant for altering and annotating books, and it’s just not the same experience electronically.
    OT – Only 91 students in the entering freshman class at Stanford Medical School? [/gobsmacked]

  15. Martin Fenner says:

    I just returned from my summer vacation and had a positive experience reading a long 700 page novel on the iPad. It didn’t feel like reading on a computer and eye strain wasn’t a problem. I didn’t read on the beach, not so much because of the brighter light, but I was afraid of sand and theft.
    eReaders are probably much more useful for nonfiction. I like the just-released Lonely Planet Travel Books (I have the Great Britain book), and I have seen some nice applications for cookbooks. I’m looking forward to the first medical textbooks for the iPad.
    What worries me is that the iPad is a niche market. Apple certainly wants everybody to own an iPad, but realistically this will always be one of several options to read a book. The iPad iBooks application uses the standard epub format, but more enhanced features might not translate to other platforms.

  16. Frank Norman says:

    Martin – that’s interesting. I think I need to give it a real test with a novel soon. I too have the “sand and theft” worry.
    I certainly agree that travel guides could be great as e-books, linking in with mapping and GPS facilities plus links to websites.
    You are right to worry about format wars in ebooks. Until this is resolved I think the market will be restrained. I saw a good explanation of eBooks, filetype, and DRM. Elsewhere one post claimed epub format is dead – Kindle wins while another claimed HTML5 wins. A single format that worked across all platforms (including desktop machines) would really help the market develop.

  17. Oliver Obst says:

    Thanks for mentioning, at least we pushed you into buying an iPad πŸ˜‰

  18. Kristi Vogel says:

    @ Martin: I’m looking forward to the first medical textbooks for the iPad
    Surely not for the gross anatomy atlases, though. No replacement for the beloved nasty Netter’s and grotty Grant’s atlases that get up close and personal with the cadavers on a daily basis. I’ve had the same grotty Grant’s for the last ten years, and I keep it in a locker in the anatomy storeroom; it’s well-loved, to be sure, but I won’t touch it without gloves any more. πŸ˜‰
    Our dental students have all their textbooks and lecture materials in electronic format on laptops (about half choose PCs, and half Macs), and that “longitudinal curriculum” (they can access any of the material throughout their 4 years of training) might work with an iPad, I think.

  19. Martin Fenner says:

    Frank, at least you have the option to download Kindle books to the iPad – I bought a Kindle book while on vacation.
    Kristi,I think that anatomy (and radiology and other disciplines with spatial information) display very well on an electronic device.

  20. Kristi Vogel says:

    @ Martin: Oh, I’ve no doubt that the image display will be wonderful; I was concerned about what might collect on the iPad itself, in gross anatomy lab. You think sand is bad – try embalming fluid, fat, bits of gland and fascia, etc. One student a few years ago was trying to go completely paperless, and he made some sort of plastic cover for his laptop. Nice idea, but didn’t work too well in the end.

  21. Austin Elliott says:

    Thanks for that reminder of why I avoid the DR / gross anatomy lab, Kristi!! [BTW, agree on your off-topic about “91 medical students??!”. Our starting freshman medical class group is pushing 400.]
    Personally I am too attached to grotty second-hand paperbacks to go (dig)iPad as a book alternative. I can imagine having one as an email/surfing replacement for the laptop I rarely take on the road due to it being too heavy (even the light ones!), but I can only imagine reading books on an electronic device under the kind of no-other-alternative conditions Henry describes.

  22. Stephen Curry says:

    The attraction for me would be if science textbooks were to be formatted for the iPad – that might induce me to get one since it would be a format that I could read on my commute.
    Then, one day, I might manage to read the whole of a textbook on the subject I’m supposed to be able to teach: biochemistry.

  23. Frank Norman says:

    Stephen – I’m sure that will come, but publishers have been a bit wary of damaging their print textbook sales, so business models for e-textbooks have not been favourable. Maybe the Open educational resources movement will deliver something useful though.

  24. Susan Steinhardt says:

    Besides for being a ‘nice way to read scientific literature’ scientist can also use the iPad to document and keep track of their data. BioData recently announced that it’s flag service BioKM has been optimized to work on Apple’s iPad. Now researchers can use the iPad to keep track of and organize all their research at the bench.

  25. Frank Norman says:

    Susan – thanks for the link. That is very interesting. I liked this too:

    BioData is currently working on a dedicated iPad/ELN-like app for BioKMβ„’ users. Researchers will be able to build experiments on their office computer and execute them on the iPad in the lab.

    Presumably that will require Wifi presence throughout the lab? I wonder how many have that right now.

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