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BooksMany of us have weighed in on the various aspects of e-books and e-readers. The jury will be out for quite awhile as the publishers, Apple, Sony, Google, Lenovo, Dell, and numerous others refine their strategy for what goes into a book, how it is displayed, and how it is priced. While the book war heats up, there are other dimensions of the e-readers to consider.
Reading magazines and newspapers on the Kindle can be quite convenient  — especially if you travel a lot — but I can’t say it is enjoyable or even natural. On the iPad reading magazines and newspapers is enjoyable and increasingly will seem the natural way to read them. The New York Times got good press at the launch of the iPad but I find it weak. The WSJ, however, is quite good. Easy to navigate and you get the full “paper” as it was published in the morning plus updates during the day. The ads are annoying and it doesn’t take long to realize that it takes two swipes to go to the next page if the page you are leaving is an ad. I would rather not have the ads but having them is the publishers only hope of making money which they need if we want good journalists. The NPR and BBC news apps are pretty good also. The Zinio ipad app is home to a large number of magazines. A few are free. Pricing is reasonable — Popular Mechanics, for example, is $7.99 for tweleve issues. Flipping Zinio pages is smooth and natural. Bottom line is that reading newspapers and magazines on the iPad is a pleasing and natural experience. My friend Jim Kollegger at Genesys Partners says “the iPad will do for publishing what the ATM did for cash”.
Aside from books, magazines, and newspapers there is an infinite amount of material to read on the iPad. Even the uninitiated organizations of the world are distributing their documents in PDF format. Not my long term favorite format but it is far better than receiving a doc file that wants to open some “bloatware” to be read. In cases where I must receive a fax I have it sent to my efax number and it shows up in the gmail inbox as a PDF. When checking out of a hotel I ask the desk to fax a copy of my room bill “to my office, no cover sheet required”. The PDF in my inbox can then be archived or used for reimbursement purposes. For more significant PDF’s that are important for future reference or even a board packet for a meeting I use the GoodReader iPad app to store and read the files. I would prefer that things were synced in the cloud rather than iTunes but the process of moving PDF’s from my ThinkPad to the iPad over the home LAN is easy now that I have done it quite a few times. The storage of the iPad allows nearly unlimited documents for most of us and having the documents “local” is nice for travel plus partaking of the great zoom and pinch features lets you have whatever the optimum view for you may be. This is especially important for charts and graphs.
In preparation for a board meeting this past week, I received the normal FedEx package containing the agenda and board papers. It was 38 pages, and including the binder clip, weighed a half-pound. I emailed the person organizing the meeting and asked for a PDF. After saving the attachment on the ThinkPad and uploading it over the LAN to the GoodReader app on the iPad I was good to go. Both reading the papers in a comfy chair the day before the meeting and following as needed at the conference room table were a welcome approach compared to fumbling with the paper. I reminded some people about the time, cost, and environmental impact of the old approach. In theory the same thing could be done with the iPhone but I have to admit that it is difficult with tabular information and graphs. It has certainly been feasible with the laptop but then you have to worry about battery life and the bulk of the device on the table. The iPad fills the bill really well. Another handy document reading tool on the iPad is the Memeo Connect Reader which syncs your Google Docs folders to the iPad app. This is really nice when you are on an airplane or somewhere that doesn’t have a WiFi signal.
And then there is reading what bloggers have to say and the thousands of news feeds. I am using both NewsRack and Early Edition on the iPad. Both are evolving, listening to feedback and continuously improving their products. You can read patrickWeb, BusinessWeek, The Economist, Engadget or any of the millions of feeds that are out there. You can add new feeds on the iPad or use Google Reader on the desktop and have the feeds automatically sync to your iPad reader. The size and clarity of the iPad makes it quite enjoyable to scan through the feeds and read stories of interest. Another nice iPad app is the Wiki (squared). You enter a word of interest, read the article about it just like an encyclopedia but then follow the links and read to your heart’s content. A real bargain for 99 cents.
How about creating documents? There are more tools to read than there are to write but there are some incredibly sophisticated writing tools available on the iPad. Apple itself features Keynote, Pages, and Numbers. I was skeptical about creating and manipulating a spreadsheet on the iPad but with Apple Numbers and no training I have learned how to do it. It is mostly intuitive. What surprised me is the breadth and depth of the functionality. I have a couple of other favorite iPad tools for writing. First is the CarbonFin Outliner. I have always liked outliners as a way to organize thoughts for a meeting or discussion agenda. You can add bullets and sub-bullets and then move them up or down or promote or demote them in the outline. The Outliner is available on a web site and you can sync your outlines. That enables you to make a change on any computer or on the iPad and everything is synced. This is the beauty of the Cloud and the way all applications should be (and will be). I have been using the Outliner for more than a year with the iPhone and I can highly recommend it. Another nice app is Things. Aside from being way overpriced ($19.99), Things provides a well organized way to capture your to do’s in buckets — Today, Next, Scheduled for a specific date, Someday, and Projects. As things get completed or moved around they show up in the Logbook. I have tried dozens of task list managers over the years and end up using scraps of paper and email as the dominant tools. Maybe Things, with the personal relationship people will have with their  iPad, will make it a winner. I especially like the “Someday” category as a way to capture those things you think of that you want to do but you know you are not going to do anytime soon.
Meanwhile I am still reading The Great Bridge by David McCullough. Among my friends and recent acquaintances it seems I am the only one who has not read this great epic book. Both the political and engineering complexities encountered in the project are mind boggling. Even though I can’t seem to find the time to finish this great book in a timely manner, I am getting used to reading on the iPad.