iPad vs Kindle: the war heats up?

Apple's Steve Jobs and the iPad vs Amazon's Kindle
It’s one of the most controversial comments ever made. Nearly three years ago, Steve Jobs was asked about the Kindle at the annual Mac World conference, and he made a startling declaration.

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read any more. Forty percent of the people in the United States read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

But not everyone agreed with his cynicism about the business of ebooks, including the technology blog at The New York Times.

“That may well be true, but it doesn’t take into account that a large percentage of the books are bought by a small number of readers…a relatively small number of people…represent a disproportionately large share of profits.”

And of course, Apple’s statistic also proves that 60 percent of Americans do read more than one book each year.

I think Jobs’ comment was motivated by a feeling of fierce competition. But nearly three years later, it still remembered in Amazon’s Kindle discussion forum. When Apple finally unveiled the iPad in January, Steve Jobs reportedly demonstrated its reading capability, and then conceded that Amazon “has done a great job of pioneering this… we’re going to stand on their shoulders for this.” I think that today, it’s become a different question: not whether there’s a market for ebooks, but whether that’s a selling point in the war between tablet-sized devices.

“No matter how cheap or technologically cool the iPad or Kindle are, ebooks will never come close to actual books…” complained one of my readers last week. But almost as soon as the iPad was released, reporters began comparing its screen to the Kindle’s. The rivalry between the devices heated up last week with Amazon’s newest TV ad. It uses two people talking at a swimming pool to demonstrate that sunlight glares off your iPad’s screen if you read it outdoors.

It’s one very specific difference between the devices, but business analysts are already analyzing the message. Yesterday The Motley Fool tracked down Len Edgerly, who is both a former business reporter and very popular Kindle podcaster, and specifically asked him about Amazon’s new ad. It was fun to hear that Edgerly actually does read his Kindle at the beach, and he describes the experience as delightful. “You also have the feeling that you are not taking a computer to the beach…”

Apparently it’s not just that there’s no glare from the sun; it’s that the Kindle is as light as a pair of sandals. At one and a half pounds, the iPad is nearly three times as heavy as the Kindle, with new versions weighing in at just 8.5 ounces. Judging by Edgerly’s experience, this could be a deciding factor for some users in the war between the iPad and the Kindle.

“[A]fter about a half an hour of reading a book, the iPad just seemed to get heavier and heavier and less and less pleasing to hold…”

2 thoughts to “iPad vs Kindle: the war heats up?”

  1. I actually dislike that commercial. The woman with the Kindle tells the iPad user that her sunglasses cost more than her kindle. The implication being that the cost of the Kindle is pocket change. For me it is the electric, water & gas, and half of my cable costs for one month. The overal impression is people throwing money around for gadgets and overprices sunglasses as if money was water. It’s a rather offensive commercial for the current economic climate.

  2. I stare at an LCD screen all day at work, and a lot of time at home. I did try reading ebooks on my laptop before I got my Kindle, but it was just too uncomfortable, both on my eyes and having to hunch over a laptop. My daughter has tried reading on her netbook with the same results. The netbook is the same size as the iPad, sans keyboard, so I’m guessing it would be a similar experience.

    I love my Kindle and find myself reading far more than I used to, which is a lot since I’ve always been a bookworm. It’s not just the convenience of the Kindle but the whole new world of low-cost books from indie authors and all of the free books Amazon give away every month. Part of the fun is discovering a new favorite author and being able to purchase everything by the author because the books are priced at $2.99 or less.

    As for no one reads anymore, that’s just not true. My two teens both read, my daughter is my bookworm clone. My sister who’s never been a big reader always reads a book when she travels, which is every week. My parents always have a book going, mostly from the library.

    For a different perspective on the Kindle, my co-worker, only 23, uses his Kindle to read work-related articles, he only has one book on it.

    Only one of my sisters and her husband have iPads and that’s because they always buy everything Apple comes out with. They also have Kindles.

    I thought the commercial was cute. It not only pointed out the sun issue, but the awkwardness of the iPad’s size. The cost difference between the two is a serious point. Basic iPads cost what? $499 for the basic model? Compared to $139 for the Kindle 3 WiFi, why would you get an iPad as a reader? That’s only about the cost of 7 hardback books, I have 400 on my Kindle that have been either free or under $5.

    Although I would never pay that for non-prescription sunglasses, my kids have friends who pay far more, and also buy designer and semi-designer clothes.

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