What’s really wrong with the iPad

Posted in Society at 9:57 by RjZ

I’ve been surprised by the vociferous remarks from various tech wags and forum commenters about how terrible the iPad from Apple is. It’s just a big iPod touch, they say. Why would anyone buy this? It’s not as good as a netbook. Really, if you don’t want one, don’t buy one, it’s just not that important, is it?

I don’t want an iPad. What I really do want is an Apple version of a netbook. I want a thin, light, very small, but very inexpensive laptop, that runs the same applications as my full size laptop, even if slower and with a cramped keyboard. That’s not what the iPad is; it really is a big iPod Touch, but that’s all it has to be.

Compared to a netbook, the iPad does many of the same things, but it’s instant-on, and super easy to interact with. Having one of these things just lying around the house as an instant web interface, book and magazine reader, reference too, and quick game toy…none of that is like a netbook and it’s pretty cool.

Compared to a Kindle or other e-book reader, it not only allows you to take thousands of books with you where ever you go, but it’ll also play movies on a tolerably large screen, allow you to write e-mail in a few minutes without waiting for a boot-up time. The books and magazines will have color photography, graphics, and more. Perhaps the screen will be more tiresome to read, but it will be much more exciting and versatile then the dull e-ink.

The people who bought an iPad either already see these advantages, or they’ll notice soon and the annoying all-Apple-all-the-time excitement will only grow. I don’t want an iPad because it’s rather expensive (although not so much compared to a Kindle, which requires a subscription, and not really that much compared to an iPod Touch which doesn’t seem to garner so much ire) and I don’t really need one enough to justify it.

What’s really wrong with the iPad is that it may result in the real success of e-books. Imagine how great it would be if all of your text books, reference books, literature, magazines…everything, were right there in your brief case or purse. Your entire library on one device that even gets backed up to your home computer. It’s the iPod of books and media and that’d be fantastic. You could search it! Imagine never missing out on a quote from a book you read. Imagine how easy it is to bring several books with you for extended travel! (I could sure use this right about now.)

What have I got against e-books then? The problem for me, is that I buy both books and music second hand. The whole copyright and stealing thing? I am circumventing it each time I buy used media. Neither the artist, nor the record label ever sees a penny from a used CD. The only people who benefited are the original owner who sold it and the reseller who sells it again. I might as well have stolen it on a file-sharing site for all the benefit the musicians see.

All the same is true for used books. No new benefit for publishers and authors, but I get to enjoy books for a fraction of the cost of new ones. I need only remain slightly behind the times and not read the latest releases, but that’s hardly a sacrifice. For those, I can usually get them at that old-school edifice: the library. In trade I get to frequent one of the most charming shops in any interesting town: the used book store.

I can then digitize the used music and carry it with me on my iPhone. Can I do this with my used books? How about my existing library of reference and more? While this is officially possible, it’s well outside the reach of normal folks. E-books destroy the used book market. There is no need to get rid of your old books. They take up an insignificant amount of room and you can now refer to them easily for that one quote or passage you enjoyed so much. If you’re young enough to have no books yet, and your university starts using iPads for all of your texts, this may not be so painful, but you’ll still be cut out of cheap used book sales. I could never have afforded university books if I had to buy all of them new. Even if you wanted to save space and get rid of a few, e-books don’t show any wear and tear, there’s no reason, market demands not withstanding, to lower the price of your used e-books.

Sure I’d enjoy an iPad, or a Kindle. I can live without reading while the airplane takes off and lands and I have to keep my electronic devices powered off, but the shame is that the fun and convenience of these new devices will cost in ways that the “I love the smell of a book” purists haven’t even yet considered. Media sellers are rubbing their hands together in greed. Used book stores, and their loyal customers, on the other hand, not so much.


  1. kris said,

    June 26, 2010 at 15:47

    Hi! I bounced here from the A Kindle World blog, and I’ve got to say, when I got my Kindle, I sold most of my physical books to a used book store and donated the rest. They definitely remained in circulation. I kept graphic novels and gorgeous clothbound small press books and some battered old favorite paperbacks, but the vast majority went to Powells (powells.com), the library, or Goodwill/Salvation Army. I certainly didn’t lock them up and cackle about how I was hiding them from the world. In fact, one of the top reasons I got an ebook reader in the first place was because my collection of physical books WAS eating up so much room in my small home. I’d rather have a small, well-curated collection of books I absolutely love than wall-to-wall bookcases filled with everything I’ve ever read – THAT is where devices like the Kindle or Nook come in handy! You don’t just bring “several” books with you when you’re traveling, you bring ALL of your books with you!

  2. RjZ said,

    June 27, 2010 at 7:27

    Welcome and thanks so much for coming by and commenting.

    Perhaps I didn’t make my point very clear though. The cheap-o used book reading community (well, me) thanks you for selling your physical library, but, you see, that’s it. Those books will make it through the system from your library through book stores and into other peoples library, but, now that you’re happy with your Kindle, that’s the end of it.

    You didn’t lock them up and cackle about hiding them from the world, but, you already are doing that with your Kindle. You’re so excited to carry around every book you ever read, every where you go. Don’t get me wrong, I think that’s a fantastic opportunity and comes with many advantages. You could pull up quotes from books from 20 years ago, or make recommendations and never forget the author or title. It’s wonderful. But what I claim you will rarely do, is sell one of those e-books off. What would be the point? They’re no longer taking any room on your valuable shelves. And that is the problem. If we meet someday and you make a recommendation of a must read book, I better be able to find it on Apple’s or Amazon’s electronic books store, and I better be able to pay full price for it too, otherwise, (unless we decide to break the law and make an illegal copy), I am not reading it.

    This, alas, although not immediately, is the death of used books stores and used book reading.

    I hope it’s clearer now and thanks again for the visit. Come back again!

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