iBooks vs. Kindle vs. Google Books for iPad Reading

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After my recent iPad purchase, I've found myself trying to optimize every experience on the tablet. Partly, I'm learning an entirely new computing device that, relative to my laptop, has both less and more functionality. Many of my personal subprocesses I got through the goodwill of my Twitter community, which suggested a ton of apps that I should try out.

So far, I find myself loving the experience of reading, particularly with Instapaper. And I'm starting to think -- based on two exceptionally long articles I've written since getting the iPad -- that this longform reading experience is subtly reshaping what I'm writing.

I really like reading books on the iPad, too, but I've been haunted with anxiety over which platform I should use: the native iBooks, Google Books, or Amazon's Kindle app. My natural biases fall towards Google Books -- though I hate the web presentation -- and Kindle because I've used them both extensively on my iPhone and like that they easily cross devices.

But something about iBooks is appealing, perhaps the consonance with other Apple-designed products. In any case, no methodology for selecting a books platform immediately presented itself to me. So I asked my Twitter followers how they decided where to buy a book for reading on the iPad. They answered clearly and definitively... in several different and sometimes conflicting ways. Below is my attempt at a distillation of the (very informed) crowd's wisdom, or you can read the raw answer feed on Storify (or at the bottom of the post).

Kindle is the best
, least-risky way of purchasing and reading books on the iPad. Tom Standage explains, "you can read [books] on almost any platform (iPad, iPhone, Kindle, PC)." Sydney Stegall also pointed to "the power of highlights and notes accessible online," which come with the Kindle. The Kindle platform also got points for the size of its selection and the ability to lend your books to others.

iBooks does have its adherents, mostly based on aesthetics. Matt Wood chooses books based on "price and availability," but "if they are equal, I prefer iBooks over Kindle because I like that interface better." That, thus far, has been my experience, too, but it's not universal. Charlie Sorrel contends, "Kindle app for me. Better fonts and typography, for my eyes at least." The biggest problem with iBooks is that they don't offer cross-platform support for other devices. Jamelle Bouie also noted that iBooks has an excellent PDF reader built in.

Google Books has few adherents for paid books. While many people like the free offerings, only Suzi Steffen said she prefers Google and it's mostly for the economy behind it: "I try to buy from independent bookstores like - so, Google Books." Me, personally, I probably have more Google eBooks than anything, but that's largely a function of my behavior on my laptop. When I want a book for research, I nearly always purchase them through Google Books.

Several people try not to use any of the major services
. Several people like Tim Maly prefer to get PDFs of books whenever possible. Having read some books as PDFs, I'd agree. The page-turning animations and other faux-book features don't really do much for me.

One interesting feature of these responses: many people use multiple readers. This squares with my natural, unconsidered behavior, which has pointed me towards buying blockbusters (A Visit from the Goon Squad) from iBooks, research books from Google, and more obscure books meant for actual reading from Amazon. It turns out that I don't really care who got the book online or what reader I'm in -- availability is, by far, my number concern. This feels tenable for now, though I can imagine it getting out of control after a few more years of reading online.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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