iPad vs. Kindle Fire: Early impressions and a few predictions

Pete Meyers examines his iPad usage and sees how (and if) the Fire could fit in.

This is part of an ongoing series related to Peter Meyers’ project “Breaking the Page: Transforming Books and the Reading Experience.” We’ll be featuring additional material in the weeks ahead. (Note: This post originally appeared on A New Kind of Book. It’s republished with permission.)

iPad 2 and Kindle FireWho knows for sure how the Kindle Fire will do? It’s crazy how confident some folks are about who it will kill, maim — or catapult to corporate dominance. The dang thing hasn’t even been touched yet by more than its birth parents and a close relative or two. (Me, I got a finger or two on it at last Wednesday’s press conference. I can’t add anything concrete to what you’ve probably already read.)

But what I can do is offer one man’s report, a year and a half in, on how I use my iPad. My goal? Compare and contrast the iPad’s talents with what we know the Fire will deliver. From there, maybe there’s a conclusion or two to be drawn about how this new tablet matches up against its two main competitors: the Color Nook and the iPad.

So, to begin with, here’s a rough tally of my iPad usage:

Most Frequent Tasks (~ 1 hour/day)

  • Email (Mail app)
  • Zite
  • Twitter (Twitter app)
  • Safari (general surfing)
  • Facebook (via Safari)
  • New York Times app

All together these six activities consume the majority of my iPad time. I list them roughly according to how frequently I use them, but the difference between the first and the last isn’t much, I’d bet.

Next Most Frequent (~ 15 minutes/day)

  • Various newly released apps (or ones I’ve just learned about). I wrote a book last year recommending the “Best iPad Apps.” This year I’m working on another book about designing digital books. So I need to keep up with what’s new.

Periodic (~ 1/2 hour/day, every couple of days)

  • Kids book apps with my two young daughters
  • Flipboard
  • iTunes (for podcasts while stretching or cooking)

As I mentioned, for professional reasons I’m always playing with new apps. When apps like Our Choice or The Wasteland launch, I get them &mda and probably play with them a dozen or so times to get a feel for how they work. The only three I’ve ever added to my regular rotation are Twitter, the New York Times, and Zite. But I wonder, really, how unique that makes me. Don’t most smartphone and tablet owners hear about new apps from friends and others online and then spend a little bit of scattered time trying new ones out?

Probably worth mentioning: the vast majority of my computing time gets spent on the laptop (a MacBook Pro) I’m typing on right now. Second place: my iPhone, which I use mainly for email, Twitter, ebook reading, web surfing, and phone calls. Let me wrap up this iPad audit with a few general observations:

  • I rarely use 3G (I’ve probably paid for three month’s worth of service in the one and a half years I’ve owned both 3G models‚ the original and the iPad 2).
  • I don’t read ebooks on the iPad very often. I find it bulky and too big, and prefer my iPhone (for plain text narrative) and print (for everything else).
  • I only pull it out on the subway (I live in NYC) when I can get a seat. Holding it in two hands requires more balance than my genes are ready to deliver.
  • I don’t really like typing on it. It’s okay for a few sentences (a quick email reply, for instance); anything longer and I wait till I’m at my laptop.
  • I’m not very conscious of missing out on Flash-enabled websites. I’m aware, of course, that many sites still use Flash, but I guess I just don’t visit those sites.
  • I rarely sync my iPad to my laptop (maybe once a month, or maybe even longer). Feels like every time I remember that I’d like to sync (to get some new photos on it or refresh my music) I decide I don’t have enough time. With the coming release of Apple’s iCloud service, this will all likely improve, but it remains to be seen how completely, and how well executed, Apple’s wire-free efforts go.

Now, what does all this mean when it comes to the Kindle Fire? I am of course getting one (and may have some big writing-related news on that front in the coming days … stay tuned!). But if I wasn’t Pete the Gadget Geek, and I didn’t yet own any tablet, knowing what I know now about how I use the iPad, which one would I get? Here are the big factors I’d consider:

  • $200 seems incredibly appealing. Like many other working professionals (a little bit of disposable income, worried about paying for two kids’ educations, second homeless), I worry about spending $500-plus each time Apple releases a new “must-have” device.
  • The only item on my iPad use-case list that feels hard to match is all that new app reviewing I do. The key question: will “long tail” apps show up in Amazon’s Appstore for Android? I’d bet, in many cases, yeah.
  • The Fire’s smaller screen size seems as much a plus as a minus. Won’t know for sure, of course, till I’ve had a chance to play with it, but at a minimum it will be easier to operate one handed.
  • Given my current subscription to Amazon Prime (which I will likely never give up), I suspect I’ll watch more TV and movies on the Fire than I do on the iPad.

So, what’s my prediction about the Fire’s fate? Way too soon to say, of course. But if I were a betting man, here’s where I’d put my money:

  • Nook Color will be the big loser in all this. There’s just not enough compelling content there to win a showdown with the Fire (if it performs as well as it did in last Wednesday’s demos).
  • iPad’s growth will slow from hockey stick-like to something still enviable and profit-worthy. But a year from now, we’ll no longer be forced to say what we must right now: there really is no tablet market; there is only an iPad market.
  • Amazon will sell, as Mr. Bezos predicts, “many millions” of these Fires.
Webcast: Digital Bookmaking Tools Roundup #2 — Back by popular demand, in a second look at Digital Bookmaking Tools, author and book futurist Pete Meyers explores the existing options for creating digital books.

Join us on Thursday, November 10, 2011, at 10 am PT

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