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Dan BarnettI'm writing this piece in the Pages app for Apple's iPad using the keyboard dock for the device. Propped up on my lap, the arrangement is workable but, as my wife points out, it seems counterintuitive to indulge in the "iPad scrunch" while a perfectly good laptop with a larger screen is waiting on a nearby table.

 

"Ah, but this is an experiment," I tell her. "I'm trying to see how much of my work I can accomplish using the iPad." Quite a bit, it turns out. Using the iPad's native Safari browser, I can handily log in to my school's Learning Management System and read student postings on a delightfully clear screen--but only indoors, with the right lighting. Don't get me started on the glare issue. For short replies, I can hunt-and-peck on the virtual keyboard; for longer ruminations a Bluetooth keyboard or keyboard dock is a necessity.

Much has been made about the iPad being a so-called "Kindle killer" that will mean the quick demise of Amazon's dedicated e-reader. In fact, because the iPad and the Kindle serve different purposes in my own digital life, I've become an enthusiastic user of both.

The Kindle and the iPad side-by-side.The six-inch Kindle, priced at $259, with its e-Ink display that resembles a printed gray page, shines in full sunlight. Or, rather, it doesn't shine since, unlike the iPad, the screen is not back lit. The brighter the light, the crisper the text. The iPad, at $499 for the base model, is a fingerprint magnet and, at 1.5 pounds vs. the Kindle's 11 ounces, is like holding a big hardbound book. The Kindle is the little paperback it's fun to snuggle up with.

The Kindle is primarily for long-form, immersive reading, like accreditation standards, and at that it excels. Though font sizes can be changed, the actual fonts are pretty generic. There's not much page design here, just text on a small screen. A click of the page forward button, a brief flash, and the next page pops into view. I've read quite a few full-length books on my Kindle, and the experience is immersive. (The device also displays PDF's, but awkwardly.) Diagrams and tables don't show up well, and there's no color, but for text reading the Kindle can be held for hours without strain.

The Apple iBooks app provides gorgeous page displays on the iPad, much like reading a well-designed p-book (remember paper?). Images are colorful and the page flip animation, with text shown in shadow on the underside of the page, is still cool after two weeks of living with the device.

Reading on the iPad is immersive, too, if one can forget the weight. The optional Apple cover can be reconfigured into a stand for the device so one can eat Cheerios and read at the same time. A swipe of the finger turns the page.Barnett with his Kindle and iPad.

With the Kindle, there are no distractions. The iPad will morph more quickly, and more radically. It will still provide a hardbound reading experience second-to-none, but the distractions are manifold. Primarily for content consumption, not content creation, though that will change, too, the iPad allows me to do most of my routine work with relative ease. But so can my laptop. The difference is that while one "lugs around" a laptop, one "carries" an iPad.

Will the iPad make kindling of the Kindle? On the contrary, the Kindle iPad app, with access to half a million Amazon e-books, is a good reason to buy an iPad. One day textbooks will begin showing up on the iPad in all their multimedia glory and the real educational revolution will have begun. For now, I'll continue to enjoy my Kindle as well as the iPad; though the tablet has more potential in the educational technology realm, the Kindle started something big in bringing e-books into the light of day. And the story for both devices is far from over.

Now, if I can just extricate myself from my iPad scrunch, I have to turn off the laptop.


Dan Barnett teaches philosophy online at Butte College
and is the school's faculty coordinator for Technology Mediated Instruction.