You’ve got your shiny new iPad and want to start to saving trees by swapping to ebooks but which bookshop should you choose? Kindle has been around the longest, has the widest selection of bestsellers and works smoothly with your Amazon account, but iBooks has colour, more search options and works equally easily with iTunes.
Browsing and buying books – iBooks
Open the iBooks app and a gently polished virtual walnut bookshelf cradles your purchased ebooks. In Kindle, covers float eerily in space – although you can grow or shrink jacket thumbnails with a quick pinch. Both can be sorted by title, author or category.
The iBooks store is as slick as you’d expect from Apple, with featured buys, paid and free charts and an easy search. With Kindle, it kicks you out of the app, opens Safari, asks you to log in again and. well, you get the point. Your purchases do end up back in the app soon enough but it’s nowhere near as seamless as iBooks.
Reading – dead heat
The iPad’s lush LCD screen is no competition for the hardware Kindle’s e-Ink display, but both apps do their best, with a choice of font sizes and brightness sliders to minimise eye strain. Both allow for sepia backgrounds but only the Kindle has a white-on-black mode that saves power and is particularly restful on the eye at night.
To make up for that, the iPad’s page turn animations are smoother and more realistic. I also slightly prefer its fonts and table of contents navigation. Both have easy to set bookmarks and notes.
Fancy extras – iBooks
There hasn’t been so much fuss about colour media since The Wizard of Oz but, in truth, iBooks’ full colour titles add relatively little unless you’re browsing a children’s book or something management-y with lots of pie charts. Much more impressive is its ability to search the text for a particular word, call up a dictionary at the tap of a finger and expand that search to Google or Wikipedia.
Amazon is promising text search soon. For now, you have to make do with a weird feature called ‘Popular Highlights’ that shows sections of the text that other people have found interesting (actually even duller than it sounds) and the new Audio/Video Editions – currently limited to just two books – that have embedded sound or video clips. These are potentially excellent – but we’ll have to wait and see just how many titles include them.
Portability and expansion – dead heat
I’m not talking about lugging the iPad around (an unpleasant experience that might soon have you ordering a recently discounted Kindle 2) but the ability to read your ebooks elsewhere. Both Kindle and iBooks have iPhone and iPod touch apps but if you want real flexibility, only Kindle software can also be found on Windows desktops, BlackBerrys, Android devices and even Macs. Plus the original e-Ink hardware, of course.
On the other hand, if you’re shopping for ebooks elsewhere then iBooks’s ability to read the increasingly standard EPUB files is worthwhile. You simply drag and drop (unprotected) books into iTunes.
Verdict – iBooks
Totting up the points, iBooks is clearly a nose ahead. But with Kindle having the edge in variety of titles and promising better search options in future versions, it’s no foregone conclusion which system you should invest your time and money in. Don’t forget standalone ebook apps either – there are some great ones surfacing (particularly if you like interactive kids’ titles).