Okay, confession time. Daddy Richard got a present for doing ten years with his company, and it was the CULTISTS' favourite, an Apple SadPad.
Yes, I know.
But once you've got over shaking you heads, perhaps you can help. No, we don't need an INTERVENTION and DEPROGRAMMING just yet, but we do have a question.
You can choose a widget to turn your SadPad into an eReader, i.e: an electronic book-reader that lets you read books electronically, what with half a kilo of circuitry being so much more convenient than this newfangled paper stuff.
The question is: which widget?
The widgets themselves are free, but you have to pay for the books…
Incidentally, did you know that although PHYSICAL books are VAT free, electronic books are not, in spite of them containing ONLY the memetic part of the physical book, so all things being equal an eBook would actually be (once Master Gideon's badword VAT rise goes through) 20% more expensive. Which is nuts.
Anyway, there are probably more, but Daddy has THREE widgets for reading books to choose from: iBooks from (join us, come and join us) Apple, Kindle from Amazon and one called Kobo backed by Boarders and other booksellers.
The problem is this: if you buy a book from ONE of them, you CAN'T read it with one of the others.
Frankly, it's a bit of a liberty! I mean, once you've PAID for it, it ought to be yours to read however you want. But that's what you get for buying into Apple's (join us, come and join us) "we know what is best for you" culture.
And don't get me started on the fact you can't GIFT other people with eBooks!
It's all the same ridiculous paranoia that has poisoned the world of digital music. Rather than being about sharing the creativity, it's all about stamping down on anyone who might make an illicit copy. Video Piracy. Music Piracy. I mean who ever head of a Pirate BOOK, before? (Apart from Mr Simon's Pirate Book, of course.)
What OUGHT to happen, is that you should be able to buy your eBook from ANY independent supplier, download it, and then read it in any of the readers.
The WORST offender is the Kindle. The iBooks and the Kobo both use internationally recognised EPUB format – but then stick their own digital rights management on top, making them non-transferable (no matter what it says in Kobo's admirable mission statement). But the Kindle uses its own bespoke software so it's not compatible with ANYTHING.
In many ways the iBooks reader is the nicest. Apple are GREAT at design (join us, come and join us) and it shows. You can highlight bits of the text and leave notes for yourself which appear in the form of cute post-it notes in the margin. If you turn the SadPad sideways, the book turns into two pages with a "crease" in the middle, like you're holding a real book (the others just show one page widescreened across the Pad).
But the GENIUS thing that it does is to let you highlight a word and then access the SadPad's onboard dictionary. A great big floating box appears which you can scroll though to read the full definition.
The Kindle does something similar, with a highlighted word allowing you to pop up a definition in a small box at the foot of the page. That's less intrusive, but also shorter and, on one occasion, managed to give me the wrong word ("Sho" not "Shoe") which was less than impressive.
But the Kodo reader doesn't do it at all.
That just staggers me. Surely you would look at what your competitors are doing and you'd realise at once that this is a defining essential feature. It's the one thing that an eBook can do that a paper book cannot – tell you what the words mean right there in your fluffy foot, without having to get up and find where the dictionary has gotten buried this time.
In fact, the Kobo doesn't do the highlighting in any form, so there's no making notes in the margin either, or copy/pasting text for short quotations.
The Kobo reader does have quite a nice clean design. Like the iBooks you can customise the font and while it won't let you turn the paper sepia (if that's important to you) it will entertainingly let you customise the shelving in your virtual library, which is a nice touch. But without the dictionary link, frankly what's the point?
The Kindle reader from Amazon is… okay. Unlike the Kobo, you CAN choose sepia "paper", but you only get the one choice of font which is a rather more tiresome omission, unless you're fond of New Times Roman. And instead of going for the "shelves" look of the other readers, the interface has a graphic of a kid reading a book under a tree that I suspect I'm going to tire of QUITE quickly.
All of which would seem to cont against the Kindle if it wasn't for one thing: backed by Amazon, the range of books available on Kindle is simply many times larger than either of the other two, particularly iBooks where the number of books on offer is pitiful. What is the point of that beautiful reader, if there's nothing to read with it? Well, it would be lovely if you could read books from OTHER sellers, but no, it's our old friend Mr DRM raining on THAT particular parade.
And I'm afraid Amazon are using their market muscle to undercut their rivals on price too. And quite significantly: Doctor Who books available on Kobo cost in the range of £6 to £7, on Amazon they're £4 to £5 (iBooks disqualified on grounds of not stocking any); Andrew Rawnsley's "The End of the Party" (essential summer reading for politicos) is £11.25 on Amazon for Kindle; it's £15.99 on the iBook store and £17.26 from Kobo. Those aren't really the sort of price differentials that you can afford to ignore.
So here's the dilemma. Or rather trilemma.
Kobo is the one that approaches nearest to being open access, buy a book from anywhere and read it anywhere, but they're the most expensive and their reader suffers a massive, and indeed critical FAIL by not linking to a dictionary.
iBooks looks lovely, is stocked with features, but carries all the monoculture problems you'd expect from an Apple (join us, come and join us) product and has barely anything at all to read.
The Kindle is a bit basic but gets the job done and has loads of books at competitive prices. But they're trying to impose their own format on everyone else rather than agree to play nice with the EPUB file format that everyone else has agreed. So they are clearly evil.
Or, as Daddy Alex put it: it's like Amazon are VHS and Apple are Betamax (and Kobo are Video 2000 – no, I had to look it up as well).
I don't want to pay over the odds, I don't want to end up with a load of books in a redundant format but I don't want to contribute to someone who's clearly trying to bust the international consensus either.
And I'd so wanted to download a whole load of books to read on holiday next week. Boo!