The e-reader and tablet battle is heating up, and right now all eyes are fixed on Cupertino, California, home of Apple. Apple unveiled its new iPad tablet computer today in a multi-hour presentation. The piece of the future revealed today by the minds at Apple is a 1.5 pound, half-inch thick rectangle with a 9.7 inch LED touch screen with multi-touch and two buttons (power and home). The iPad is essentially a large iPhone, which Apple is placing squarely in an unfilled market niche.
The company is promoting it as a video, book, magazine, web, and email solution at an intermediate point between a smart phone and a laptop. With wifi and an option for 3G connectivity (though pay-as-you-go monthly plans with AT&T and free service at AT&T wireless hotspots), the iPad will have access to music, movies, and TV shows through the iTunes store, web content and apps (just like with the iPhone) and access to the new Apple iBook store, where users will be able to purchase e-books and read them in the iPad’s e-reader.
All of this has the iPad set to compete with Amazon’s Kindle DX. The Kindle DX, Amazon.com’s e-book reader, has been the best-selling product in this category since its release. The Kindle allows users to “flip” through e-books purchased through the Kindle store. The Kindle DX also features a 9.7-inch screen, but only in black and white, and allows you to read e-books and PDF documents. In entering the e-book market, Apple has brought considerably more functionality to the formula of the Kindle DX, and for essentially the same price ($489 for the Kindle DX, $499 for the base version of the iPad). The iPad isn’t perfect either, of course. It lacks a card reader or USB ports and does not have a webcam.
The real question is how all of this will affect college students. Amazon has worked out deals with several textbook manufacturers (in addition to all of the other publishers whose books are available on the Kindle) to provide cheap, digital textbooks to college students. There has even been passing interest in the Kindle voiced by Knox faculty over the last year (though there are no official plans to use them). Several colleges, including Reed College in Portland, Oregon, have been testing Kindles in the classroom. Reed has been using the Kindle in their French 451 (The History of Truth and Authenticity from Montaigne to Sartre), English 302 (Irony, Allegory, Epic) and Political Science 422 (Nuclear Politics) courses.
Reed has recently announced, however, that they will not continue to use Kindles, citing the fact that they are not fully accessible to blind students. The U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education recently filed a complaint against Reed for their use of the Kindle. Even before the complaint from the Justice Department, there were complaints from students about the Kindle program due to the fact that the Kindles were too slow to easily look up passages in classes. Many students were frustrated by the annotation system.
These complaints about the Kindle and against Reed and Reed’s decision to discontinue use of the Kindle make it doubtful that we will see the e-reader here at Knox any time soon. The iPad, though, might be another option. A brief glance at the iPad’s accessibility features shows that it has a VoiceOver screen reader and full-screen zoom magnification. Whether this would really make it usable by blind students is another matter due to the fact that so far the iPad has not even been released yet for reviews.