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First Week Conclusion: The iPad was designed to be an Amazon Kindle killer

April 13th, 2010 · 10 Comments · Technology

After my first week with the iPad, I’m still pondering the most basic question, “What is the primary purpose and vision of the iPad?” I’m on my first trip with the iPad and I can’t quite figure out how it fits into my array of gadgets. The obvious answers include: an eReader, an Internet device, a mini-laptop (netbook), a multimedia player (photos, videos, audio) or a gaming device. I’m sure the practical answer is some combination of all of the above. But what was Steve Job’s vision for this device? And how does that vision work out in reality?

iPad, MacBook Pro 17For this four day business trip to New York and Chicago, I have an impressive arsenal of computing power, including: my trusty iPhone 3GS, 17″ MacBook Pro, iPad, iPod Shuffle, Magic Mouse, Canon Digital Elph SD990 IS and Sprint Overdrive 4g Wifi device. I decided at the last minute to leave my Amazon Kindle at home (probably a foreshadowing of my conclusion, below). With these devices my briefcase makes me a chiropractor’s dream client.

A lot of online conversations have described the iPad as a device for consuming content. It’s hard to argue that with that conclusion. During my first week I’ve been reading several books (both in iBook and Amazon’s Kindle App); reading news with USA Today, New York Times and AP apps; reading emails from multiple accounts; watching movies and TV shows (kudos to ABC’s wonderful app); viewing photos on the iPad in digital photo frame mode (a bonus feature I never considered); reading numerous web pages on a regular basis; and catching up with friends on Facebook. Heck, I even used the iPad to watch part of the Masters golf tournament in the back of a New York taxi. Yes. The iPad is a great device for consuming content. (It also has potential for creating content. The majority of this post was written on my iPad during a Continental flight at 35,000 feet.)

But during my first week of extensive iPad usage, I’ve discovered an interesting clue about the vision of the iPad based on the placement of the Home button and the docking connector. I have a hunch that the iPad was intended, first and foremost, to be an eReading device. This conclusion is based on one 90 degree decision — the choice to make the iPad’s natural orientation Portrait mode (vertically oriented) instead of Landscape mode (horizontally oriented).

While the iPad can be easily rotated, the iPad’s home button and accessories make the device predominantly a Portrait mode. That makes the device really an eReading device. Consider these common uses of the iPad:

  • Internet surfing: Most web sites are designed for computer screens that are almost exclusively Landscape mode.
  • Watching videos: Televisions shows, Internet videos and movies are all in Landscape mode. Any video you watch on the iPad will likely be in the Landscape mode.
  • Viewing photos: The majority of photos are taken in Landscape mode. I’ve decided I need to make a custom Portrait mode collection of my favorite photos to enjoy the slideshow view when my iPad is docked.
  • Office applications: Keynote on the iPad is exclusively a Landscape mode app. Numbers and Pages can be used in Portrait mode, but the most practical way to type is in Landscape mode.
  • Email: I really dislike the interface on the iPad when using the email application in Portrait mode. I think it works better in Landscape mode, when you can see your inbox and the current email message simultaneously.
  • Games: While many work in Portrait mode, more games seem better suited for Landscape mode.
So this begs the question as to why Apple made the Portrait mode default on the iPad when almost all of the applications described above are better in Landscape mode. In fact, a quick look at the preview videos of the upcoming notebooks like HP’s Slate shows a device almost always in Landscape.

So either Apple wanted to simply stay consistent with the design of the incredibly successful iPhone, or they really intended the iPad to be an eReader. I think it’s the latter. Most print books are in Portrait mode naturally, and the only way to comfortably hold the iPad with one hand is in Portrait mode. Most readers prefer to hold a book (or Kindle) with one hand. The only problem is that at 1.5 pounds, the iPad is a bit heavy for an eReader and the iBookstore and iBook app are currently poor competitors to Amazon and the Kindle franchise. (I’ll save that discussion for another post.)

With the amount of resources and effort Apple has placed into building the iBook and iBookstore market, it seems highly probable the iPad is a decision to go after Amazon and Kindle’s eBook market share which combined is around 95%. Put another way, if Apple had decided to make a full-on assault on the cable and movie industries, the iPad would have been designed to be naturally in Landscape mode. If it’s the eBook market that Apple wants, they need to work on iBook and the iBookstore.

What do you think about Apple’s 90 degree decision? Send your comments to or discuss on Twitter @robsimons.

PS: Before you send me your emails about the ability to simply rotate the screen 90 degrees, I’d point you to the accessories and the dock connector — even with the optional keyboard, this device makes much more sense to me to be able to place it in the dock in Landscape mode. Maybe a third-party firm will answer my needs with a clever aftermarket device.

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