Speaking of apps, one of the iPad's strengths is that it can display e-books from more than one source. Apple's iBooks app is front and center, of course, and it's attractive and functional, though hardly the best iPhone OS book-reading app I've ever seen. (My vote there goes to Eucalyptus.) iBooks will even display DRM-free Epub files you can make yourself or download from the Internet. But Kindle for iPad is here too, giving iPad users access to Amazon's entire e-book library (and allowing them to sync those books between the iPad and other devices, including Kindles and iPhones). Other readers will undoubtedly follow. That adds even more to the iPad's flexibility.
A year ago, when I bought my Kindle 2, I cancelled my print subscription to the San Francisco Chronicle and replaced it with a Kindle subscription to that newspaper. If I decided to stop using my Kindle tomorrow in favor of the iPad, though, I would actually be taking a major step backward when it comes to reading that particular paper. That's because every morning there's a new copy of the Chronicle on my Kindle, pushed automatically over the network. Meanwhile, Apple hasn't provided newspaper and magazine publishers with any standardized method to sell their products, other than the obvious one: the iPhone/iPad app-development kit.
Some newspapers and magazines are building their own apps; others will likely use third-party apps built to house their content. But it's one area where the iPad currently lags behind the Kindle--though with the staggering momentum on display in the App Store, it's not a gap that's likely to remain for very long. And the iPad's large, color screen will be able to replicate the magazine experience in a way that even the larger (but still grayscale) Kindle DX just can't.
Then there's the reading that goes beyond books, newspapers, and magazines. Perhaps the most important app on the iPad is its web browser, Safari. This version of Safari, like many of the iPad's apps, is a hybrid of its Mac and iPhone iterations. From the iPhone, Safari inherits the easy tap-to-zoom interface and resolution-independent type that makes even seriously zoomed-in pages readable. But the browser benefits greatly from the extra screen space, not just to display proper widescreen Websites at readable sizes but also to add Mac-style interface niceties like a set of toolbar favorites.
There's just something about surfing the Web using Safari on the iPad. It feels different, somehow. Apple's marketing pitch says "it's like holding the Internet in your hands," and while that's a little bit cheesy, it's not far off. There's just something different about holding that Web page in your hands, rather than seeing it on a desktop or laptop PC, or on a tiny iPhone screen. Tapping on links doesn't feel the same as clicking on them with a mouse. It's a good feeling.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.