The future of reading is now

by STUART

I'm writing this sitting in front of a 46" TV that is magically (wirelessly) displaying my iPad screen through a tiny black box (Apple TV) connected via one cable (HDMI) using a solar-powered keyboard. And my writing (via Byword) is being automatically synced to the cloud (Dropbox).

So, the world we live in is magical. But how do we incorporate these technologies into our lives to make them easier and better? Why is it that certain technologies just complicate things? I am going to be writing more on this, specifically reading and photography. So let's start with reading.

And eBooks have been on my mind lately due to all of the traveling. It is nice to travel without carrying loads of books. And it's nice to be able to buy a new book without adding any more weight or taking up any more space. And it's nice to be able to read the same book on multiple devices at the same time.

But, as reading shifts to electronic devices, we are faced with some amount of confusion. So let's talk about different types of reading: text, pdfs, and comics. That covers most things we want to read I guess.

Nook

With text (fiction and nonfiction), the content is universal. Text is transportable and pretty hard to screw up. But most text you buy as ebooks is encrypted. So you have to choose your provider. For a while I used Amazon and Kindle, but for the past year or so I have been using and enjoying Barnes & Noble and Nook. I love the Nook SimpleTouch as an e-ink reader. It is easy to hold and easy to use. It is easy to personalize (with different covers, etc.). It does not try to be a tablet. It tries to be a book. And the Nook SimpleTouch with the backlight looks incredible, although it is a bit pricey at the moment. When it gets to $100 or so, I think they will fly off of the shelves. And the Nook reader for iOS (iPhone and iPad) is really good. It is not as good as iBooks (but then, what is?), but it has a lot of fonts and choices. I am assuming that the Nook Android App is similar to the iOS App, and is equally good. I can still read my Kindle books through the Kindle App on a wide variety of platforms whenever I need it.

The iPad

With the retina display on the new iPad, I find I am using it more and more to read. And I can read "anything" on it: Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, etc. It's not too comfortable to hold (I am investigating some solutions, and will write about any that are worth pursuing), but the screen is great. I am intrigued by the smaller tablets, such as the Nook Tablet (which can only read Nook books unless it is hacked to read Kindle) or the Google Nexus 7 (which can read Nook and Kindle, but not iBooks). A retina-class 7- or 8-inch iPad would be a crazy-cool reading device (I would hope it would be designed to be "held" like the Nook SimpleTouch).

Yet where the iPad (or any full-featured tablet) suffers as a reading device is in its penchant for easy distraction. It is way too easy to open up a web browser or email client or twitter client, etc. and forget all about reading. So something like an e-ink Nook or Kindle has an advantage in its limitations. You pretty much can only read books on them. So while you may bounce from book-to-book, you are not going to be distracted by other applications.

The iPad (with its larger screen) also excels as a comic book reader and a PDF reader. I am particular to Dark Horse comics but I think there are a lot of good clients available. And there are a ton of good PDF readers available for the iPad, although I am partial to just using iBooks (for annotating PDFs, iBooks is not a good choice though).

iBooks

A little more about Apple's iBooks. Although I avoid buying iBooks eBooks (because they can only be read on Apple devices), the User Experience (UX) on the newest version of iBooks on the retina iPad reading in landscape mode is approaching "magical". It feels like reading a book. It is the right size, the page turning is beautiful, etc. The highlighting function is intuitive, and is orders of magnitude better than anything on the Kindle or Nook Apps.

DRM-free ePubs

One more thing. Because of my general disdain for digital rights management, especially on something as simple as text, I try to buy DRM-free ePub eBooks whenever possible. I store them on Dropbox, and then, via the iOS Dropbox client, can add them to iBooks whenever I want. And I get the "magical" reading experience of iBooks, in exchange for a bit more complexity (and ePubs on iBooks still sync between devices, which is really cool). A lot of independent authors are self-publishing as DRM-free ePubs, and there is a lot of really neat stuff available.

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