Digital-Readers for Beginners, Part Two

I just flew in from the Reading Recovery conference, and boy are my arms tired! 

Last week in Digital-Readers for Beginners, Part One, I wrote about some digital-reader ownership statistics, and highlighted the typical features of eBook readers and tablet computers. Today, we’ll cover the following topics:

1. iOS vs. Android
2. The concept of the digital ecosystem
3. Which digital-reader is right for you?

iOS vs. Android
Tablets come in two distinct flavors: Apple’s iOS or the Android operating system. iOS is the proprietary operating system for all of Apple’s devices, including iPod and iPhone. Those who already own an iOS device will be immediately familiar with the iPad’s interface. Android is a Linux-based operating system that Google debuted in 2007 to compete with the iPhone. The Android OS is present in many of today’s smart phones and tablets, and is used by a variety of manufacturers. Amazon Kindle Fire, Nook Tablet, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Motorola Xoom, and Toshiba Thrive are just a handful of the tablets that use the Android operating system.

So what is the difference between Android and iOS, you wonder? Well… for the common user, there isn’t a whole lot of difference- both systems are intuitive and easy-to-use in their own ways. iOS is developed only by Apple, whereas Android code is open source, allowing each manufacturer to tailor the system to (theoretically) best suit the device. While the Android variations that are available for consumers make it sometimes better and sometimes worse, the major difference between Android and iOS is not found in the interface, but rather the content available for each system. This ties into our next topic…

Digital Ecosystem
The concept of the digital ecosystem,as it pertains to digital-readers, is something that has emerged only recently. Digital-readers vary significantly in many physical ways; size, weight, processing power, storage capacity, and so on- but we’re not shopping for cars here- the physical nature of a digital-reader is only half of the picture. The other half of the picture is content. It’s not only a question of “can I watch movies on this device?” but also “which movies can I watch on this device?”

So now we’ve reached the crux of the digital ecosystem concept: Not every ebook, movie, or application is available for every device. And if the same content does bridge multiple platforms, it is unlikely to have the same price point on each one. Understanding the differences between ecosystems is as important as understanding the physical differences between digital-readers. There are two major digital ecosystems in play right now; Apple and Amazon.

Apple: The iPad utilizes the iTunes store for entertainment (movies and music), the App store for applications, and the iBookstore for electronic and interactive books. iTunes was made popular with the rise of the iPod as the world’s most widely-used mp3 player, which evolved into the world’s most widely used portable media player. The iBookstore has been less successful. It’s important to note that due to the cost of doing business with Apple, and the restrictions and constraints of their business model, many publishers have avoided selling their books in the iBookstore. I view the recent announcement of the iAuthor software as a desperate attempt to generate more book content for the iPad. Apple is notorious for monetizing everything and the fact that iAuthor is free is one of the most obvious responses to their losing effort in the eBook battle. That being said, for pure entertainment, iTunes is the premier music provider, and has a robust movie selection as well. Movies may be purchased or rented, and there’s no better digital-reader for watching movies than the iPad. Apple’s App store is accessible only to app developers who are able and willing to adhere to Apple’s strict requirements. Apple screens every app before it is made available to consumers, and takes 30% of all app sales. Many people feel that Apple’s model limits consumer choice, but I think it’s an effective way to eliminate bloatware/malware, and helps ensure customers are purchasing apps of a certain quality.

Amazon: Amazon is the largest online retailer in the world, and have been the biggest seller of print and digital books for a long time. The Kindle is the most widely-used eReader device on the market, and the Kindle Fire is the fastest-growing tablet since it’s debut in late 2011. Amazon has a clear advantage in the eBook market: they have the most selection, and their prices are typically the lowest available. Movies may be purchased or rented for the Kindle Fire. Amazon Prime members can view a decent number of movies and books for free. Amazon’s App store is not nearly as large as Apple’s, but does have the most popular apps available. Since the Kindle Fire is an Android-based device, it is possible the device will someday allow access to the official Android Market.

Some additional notes to consider

  • Third-party apps such as Pandora or Netflix are available on nearly every tablet, including iPad and Netflix. If you subscribe to a digital content service, make sure to find out what apps might be available for you to leverage.
  • I’ve written a lot about Apple and Amazon, but there are other worthy digital-readers and digital ecosystems. Nook has a fantastic book selection. Samsung Galaxy Tab has access to the Android Market, and it’s 20,000+ apps. 

Which digital-reader is right for you?
To figure out which digital-reader is right for you, you need to figure out what you’re looking for. By now, you should have a pretty good idea of the major players, and their strengths and weaknesses. Here are a few bullet points you should consider before making a purchase:

  • If you have small children, iPad is the best for picture books. (There also happens to be a Lerner Digital iPad app available!)
  • Kids love apps. Kids break things. Kindle Fire is $300 cheaper than iPad.
  • If you already have a Kindle, and are thinking about adding a tablet, consider that Amazon content may be shared among all of your devices.
  • Sony eReader is the smallest and lightest of all the eBook readers.
  • Barnes & Noble offers free in-store Nook support.
  • You can read any book for free, up to one-hour a day, when you bring your nook into a B&N store.
  • If you’re like Maurice Sendak, none of these devices is right for you.

If you’re still not sure which device you should get, post a comment and I’d be happy to assist you!