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I read the news today, ho hum

As you may have heard, The Guardian has created an iPhone app. It’s very good. But is it as good as ink printed on dead trees?

One of the side-effects of the current cold snap is that my papers aren’t delivered until fairly late in the day, if at all. I’m a creature of habit, so that buggers up my day quite considerably: the natural order of things is coffee, paper, toast, work. Hurrah, then, for the Guardian iPhone app.

Well, not quite. As an app it’s brilliant. As a newspaper replacement, it isn’t.

The single most important problem isn’t the app’s fault, but the iPhone’s. Reading from a screen isn’t fun, especially when you’re up too early and it’s still pitch black outside. No matter how much you tweak it, reading from a brightly lit screen simply isn’t as easy on the eyes as reading from paper.

The second problem is also the iPhone’s fault: the screen’s too small. Maybe it’s just me and my RSI, but holding the phone in one position for any period of time starts to hurt my hands, and because it’s such a small screen you spend more time scrolling than you do reading. I know it’s possible to read entire books on the iPhone, but I think anybody who does is nuts.

The third problem is that there’s a lack of serendipity. Again, this may just be me, but I find I tend to read much more of a printed paper or magazine than I do with a screen-based one. In print I’ll read most things; on a screen I only tend to click on the things I know I’m interested in.

Maybe things will change with the forthcoming Apple Tablet That Will Do Everything Including Raising Elvis From The Dead, or with e-ink based ebook readers (although I’m not convinced they have a long term future) – or more likely, maybe we’ll see new kinds of publication with embedded video and other goodies. But for those of us who need a daily print fix, I’m not sure technology has a decent alternative just yet.

8 replies on “I read the news today, ho hum”

I agree wholeheartedly with your point about serendipity. I remember reading something a while ago about the danger of everything becoming MY computer, MY documents, MY bloody everything MY way. If we only get our information from carefully selected RSS feeds or Twatter nonsense it just narrows our reading matter to opinions we already agree with and topics we’re already interested in. Whatever happened to broadening the mind? Like you, I’m sure I read more widely in the treeware newspapers I occasionally still buy – a bit of business news, a bit of sport, a smattering of trivial showbiz or fashion gossip but I wouldn’t choose to read this stuff online. And what’s more, the adverts in the papers don’t flicker and flash and take over the page. It’s the end of society as we know it I tell you…

Without knowing any details about it whatsoever, who knows? I suspect that a 10-inch tablet would be better suited to ebook reading than a phone screen, but it’s still an LED display. E-ink is much better, but of course it doesn’t do video.

I think we’re on the same page, Java Man. Why does typing that make me feel like I’m one of the characters in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure?

It’s not just the medium, either – by its very nature, reading on a connected device means you’re going to be interrupted by texts, emails, notifications of various forms. It’s a pain.

I have to say, this dual-screen thing looks to me like a much nicer idea than a tablet.

I personally have no trouble at all reading on screens and can happily do it for hours. I know that that makes me odd, though. Especially since I’m a migraine sufferer.

I know we keep coming back to this again and again here, but… An ebook-reader needs to be waterproof, humidity-proof, shock-proof, light, and solar-powered, and have the world’s simplest interface. It also needs to be about the size of a paperback, including the thickness: it needs to be a bit chunky to hold on to nicely, not some bloody ultra-thin nonsense. Oh, and considering the up-front investment in the tech, the ebooks for it need to be very cheap, maybe a pound each. I’d love one. Can anyone even imagine such a thing ever appearing on the market?

Sorry sir, blog thought you were a spammer.

I do think you’re right about ebooks, but I think they’ll probably become a niche – people who don’t buy a lot of books but love their gadgets, or people who travel a lot. I still much prefer old fashioned print.

The existing ones are absolutely superb for documents, rather than books. Sony gave my father-in-law’s organisation a stack of free ones to try out, and they’re hooked. If they need to give some manager a briefing, they just stick the whole lot on an Ebook and hand it to them. Saves them lugging massive amounts of paperwork around, and obviously the cost of the reading material isn’t an issue ’cause they’re writing it themselves.

You need to check WordPress’s dictionary is OK. I’m a spanner.

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