courier.jpgThe Apple iPad will not kill the Kindle. In this installment of my Kindle shakedown series, I contend that the ideal ereader should not become a multipurpose device like the forthcoming iPad, or the HP Slate, or whatever comes next. It should instead become a fully dual-purpose device, with two screens dedicated for the two purposes of reading and writing.

Some say the multipurpose iPad will kill the single-purpose Kindle. I disagree. This year I have discovered the joy of single-purpose devices. Most computers are multipurpose devices, designed to do everything but not always in the best way. I easily prefer the single-purpose GPS mounted in my car over the equivalent function on my smart phone. The single purpose GPS has a larger screen that is easier to follow when driving. I recently obtained a tabletop internet radio. I can listen to the same stations on my computer, but the dedicated radio has better speakers and does not compete for my processor. The Kindle wins for the same reason. I can read ebooks on my laptop, but the laptop is too bulky and has many distractions. So too the iPad, on which users can surf the web, send email, take photos, watch videos, listen to music, and so on. One can browse the web on a Kindle, but the web experience is streamlined to reading-related activities, such as looking up related concepts in Wikipedia.

A single-purpose device is better for reading than a multipurpose device, but a dual-purpose device is even better for the kinds of reading I do on the Kindle. After three months of shaking down the Kindle, I still think print books are the superior technology for reading lengthy, complex and rich writing. At the same time, the Kindle is unnecessary for reading the snippets and other short content found on the web; laptops and smart phones are quite sufficient for that. However, there is a middle ground of reading. The best word for this kind of reading is ‘research’. Like long-form reading, it involves investigative reading beneath the surface, and it also necessitates note-taking and other information processing practices best streamlined by digital technology. As a hybrid of traditional books and digital technology, the ereader is ideally suited for the dual purposes of reading and writing.

For research, I want to be able to see my highlights and notes, juxtaposed with the original text, and be able to transfer selections to a new file. I also want to coordinate with my Delicious bookmarks, and post thoughts to Twitter. I cannot yet do these tasks on my Kindle, but I am not sure the iPad will be much better. Steve Job’s presentation did not make clear that the iPad take notes at all, but I assume it will. The iPad will also have DRM and this means it will limit the users ability to copy the original text. My advice for the designers of the next generation of ereaders is to fully embrace dual-purpose design. I am inspired by two screen designs like the concept piece about the Microsoft Courier. Imagine being able to read on both left and right screens, then changing one screen to note-taking functions. Streamline the functions for reading and writing and it could be the ideal ereader.

Editor’s Note: This article, the seventh in a series, is reprinted, with permission, from John Miedema’s blog. John is a graduate of the Master of Library and Information Science program at the University of Western Ontario. In October, he presented at the Library of Congress on his recently published book, Slow Reading. He also developed open source software which links bibliographic data from Open Library to web pages and library catalogues. Articles on the software were published in Information Standards Quarterly and the Code4Lib journal. PB


  1. “As a hybrid of traditional books and digital technology, the ereader is ideally suited for the dual purposes of reading and writing.” John Miedema

    This is the most generative suggestion I have ever encountered concerning the future of the book. We can add just one more logic, but these two come before. (1) screen based book reading is optimized by careful device dedication including synthesis of digital connectivity, search, and display with constraints of print (2) a natural interplay of writing and reading on the screen echoes a classical negotiation from manuscript to print, (3) going forward, there is an underlying interdependence between screen and paper.

  2. I look at the illustration, and I wonder: How is he going to write on that thing? With his finger? With a stylus? With a bluetooth keyboard not included in the picture? With an onscreen software keyboard?

    There does indeed seem to be a battle between the side that says, ‘One dedicated device solves this one problem better than a general-purpose device that takes a nod at this problem, kinda, sorta,’ and the side that says, ‘I don’t want to load up a bag with 12 different devices every time I go out the door.’

    I’m hoping that both sides will be satisfied in the marketplace, but so far history has been on the side of the general-purpose device. Or did you go out this morning after loading up your pocket calculator, and your Palm Pilot or Dayplanner, and your phone, and your laptop? And when you got to work at your desk, did you dust off your dedicated Exxon wordprocessor?

    — asotir

  3. astoir, have a look at this Entourage video, the user writes with a stylus on this dual purpose device. Nifty.

    It’s true there’s a tradeoff between single and general purpose devices, but people can sort these out for themselves over time.

    In the eighties I owned a Smith Corona dedicated word processor, but I am quite satisfied with word processing on a general purpose computer these days.

    I still prefer the single purpose print book for slow reading, but maybe a dual-purpose device is best for research. We’ll see.

  4. I have to completely disagree with this article. The iPad is a game changer just as the iPod and iPhone were. Already the consumer has spoken as Apple took 90,000 pre-orders within hours last Friday.

    The consumer does indeed want a multi-purpose product to carry around.

    That is the whole point of being mobile! There is no comparison to the Kindle’s 20th century looking device – no color screen is a big issue. The iPad creates the feeling of reading a book in just the way it flips the page. The iPad is a Kindle killer and Amazon is now desperately trying to catch up with the technology. For a full review, see this article: and many more reviews at

  5. Audrey, multipurpose devices are great if you’re trying to multi-task. Some kinds of reading — snippets, news — fit that information processing pattern, and can benefit from the tablet more than the Kindle. Other kinds of reading — sustained reading, research — may benefit more from another kind of device, like the single-purpose Kindle or the dual purpose Entourage Edge. That’s my view.

  6. I appreciate that everyone has their view, however as a marketing strategist and previous new products research manager going back to Compaq days, I say the market dictates. A recent study by Changewave showed that 27% of e-reader owners would have preferred a Apple iPad instead, and less than half of them would have still chosen the product they had purchased. Of those who intend to buy an e-book reader in the next 3 months, more than 40% want the iPad. It’s simply a better reading experience if that is all you want to do, but hey, it’s also nice to check your email or social network while it’s in your hands.

    If that doesn’t indicate the iPad fulfills a new niche and will be a winner, I don’t know what does, other than wait and see!

  7. “A recent study by Changewave showed that 27% of e-reader owners would have preferred a Apple iPad instead” — it’s a curious stat, since the respondents would have made that choice without ever having read a book on an iPad, or had a chance to read reviews by others about the experience of reading on one. Predictions about reading and technology have been wrong for a generation now. We thought print books would disappear altogether, but they are still the preferred method of long-form reading. I too share a certain sense of enthusiasm for the iPad, and think it will do some things well, but I am doubtful that it will better serve long-form reading. As you say, wait and see.

  8. Check out the survey and article here:
    “About 25 percent of those customers having bought an e-book reader would have preferred to buy an iPad. About 27 percent of the persons who owned an e-reader device as of February would have preferred to buy an Apple device instead. Less than half of them, i.e. 45 percent, would still have chosen the device they already bought.”

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