More iPad observations: iBooks

Note: I originally wrote this as a comment on my previous entry, but it seemed substantial enough to warrant its own post.

I admit it. Much to SLP’s chagrin, I’m not a huge reader of books. In the past I typically read 10-15 books per year, although more recently, with the lifestyle changes that have come with young kids and new technology (iPhone, Nintendo DS), my book reading has really fallen off. I’m not sure I’ve read an entire book cover-to-cover since I polished off the Harry Potter series in late 2007.

Anyway… the reason I mention that is to say that I have never been interested in a dedicated e-book reader like the Kindle, partly because I’m just not reading that many books these days. But I’m also not impressed by them technologically. The e-ink displays are cool (in a limited way), but beyond that they’re very unimpressive. I dislike single-function devices on principle. (And remember, the Kindle DX is only ten dollars cheaper than the entry-level iPad.)

Which brings me to iBooks, the e-book reader app for the iPad. I think I could embrace the idea of e-books on a device that also does a lot of other cool stuff, and even though the iPad has certain characteristics that are arguably inferior to the Kindle for the purpose of reading books — namely, a lower-resolution, backlit display, which can be harder on the eyes than the Kindle’s display, and that also doesn’t work so well in bright sunlight — arguments can also certainly be made in favor of the iPad as a superior e-book reader: you don’t need to have a light on to use it (meaning you can read it in bed without disturbing your partner), and the full-color touchscreen display is much more responsive, allowing for not just brilliant color images, but video and other interactive features.

And then there’s the iBooks interface: in particular, the way you turn pages. On the Kindle, you press buttons on the sides of the device, which “turn” the page in the form of a 3-second redraw. On the iPad, you really turn the page with a swipe of your finger, which causes the corner of the on-screen page to curl up and follow your finger movement as you lay it down on the other side of the “book.” It’s a cool effect, and it works incredibly well, but it wasn’t until I used it myself that I realized it wasn’t just a gimmick: you can stop partway through the turn and hold the page there, allowing you to see part of the page before/after the one you’re on. You can move it back and forth.

And that’s when it hit me that I do that a lot when I’m reading a “real” book. I will often be reading a passage and want to refer back to something I just saw on the previous page. On the iPad, you can do that, in exactly the same way that you do it with a physical book. And to me, that goes a much longer way towards making reading a book on the iPad feel like reading a book instead of reading dark gray letters on a light gray screen, and pushing flimsy plastic buttons to move to the next gray screen’s worth of text.

It is this kind of attention to the finer details of the user experience that sets Apple’s product (hardware and software) designs apart from the rest. In my experience no one innovates user experience like Apple. Eventually others catch on, but Apple has consistently led the way, for over a quarter century. And I don’t see that changing anytime soon (regardless of the continued presence of Steve Jobs).

Side note: iBook vs. iBooks. Apple let the iBook moniker for its consumer-level laptops die when it switched to Intel processors a few years ago. Now the name has a whole new meaning. I have yet to see anyone else make note of this, but I’m sure I’m not alone in this observation.

About the (potentially weird) Amazon.com links

In my ongoing efforts to crassly monetize my website, I’ve just added a new feature that synergistically leverages Amazon.com tools to dynamically embed targeted product links within my content. (Surely someone out there has a buzzword “BINGO” by now, so I’ll write the rest of this in the voice of a normal human.)

I’m noticing some weirdness in all of this, in terms of some random phrases that are triggering links to products I’ve never heard of, along with some other things that are too arcane for me to even bother identifying, because I’m a little embarrassed that I’m so friggin’ anal that I’d even notice them.

Anyway… most of the time, I think these links are pretty accurate, and it’s a great way for you to seamlessly transition from reading my drivel to lining Jeff Bezos’s pockets, not that they’re not already overflowing. Mine aren’t, however, and if you buy things from Amazon via links on my site, Jeff might just throw a bone my way. Thanks…

Another new design (or lack thereof)

Although I was relatively happy with the most recent design on this site, I just found it to be too cluttered once all of the detritus of my actual blog posts got thrown into the mix. So I’ve taken the same basic layout (including my ongoing issues with clear: both which I just haven’t had time to resolve) and stripped out most of the visual elements: I’ve replaced the pungent green gradient background with plain white; I’ve removed the light green background on the sidebar; I’ve changed the background of the nav bar to extend across the page and given it a splash of the gradient color removed from the rest of the page; etc.

It’s all a bit plain now, of course, but that’s kind of the point. However, the design will be evolving over the next few weeks as I work out a proper solution for the header area (even including, perhaps, the glorious return of the “34 photos” gimmick I was doing a year or so ago, now that I have a camera in my pocket at all times, and can snap more images of the number “34” around the city).

I know you care!

Update: Guess what. Screwed up in Internet Explorer. Awesome. More hugs ‘n’ kisses for Ballmer. Looks like it might just be a simple z-index thing, though, so I’ll fix it once I finish running the obligatory Windows Update.

Reflections on Parenting, After One Week of Experience

It’s 5:30 AM. I’m wide awake, having just endured the most harrowing diaper-changing experience so far in my short career as a parent. It’s a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned to date….

  • You can never predict when the baby will come, especially when you are convinced that it couldn’t possibly come yet.
  • There’s a reason they call it “labor.”
  • Dads: If you agree to cut the umbilical cord on your new son, just be careful where you angle those big scissors. Leave circumcision to the experts.
  • Once you’ve smelled it, everything smells like baby formula.
  • Try not to ponder the implications of having a McDonald’s restaurant inside a hospital.
  • Babies are neither as fragile nor as durable as they appear.
  • Don’t burp the baby while wearing your favorite shirt. Or sitting on the brand new sofa.
  • Yes, your baby really is the cutest in the world. Just don’t expect everyone else to see it.
  • Try not to envision a dairy farm when your wife is pumping breast milk. At least, if you do, don’t tell her about it.
  • A pack of 80 diapers doesn’t last as long as you’d think.
  • The health insurance industry has an inscrutable logic all its own.
  • Plan for everything to take twice as long as you expect it to. Then it will take approximately twice as long as that.
  • Your physical coordination really is affected by sustained lack of sleep. Keep that in mind when your toes are exposed to large, heavy, moving objects.
  • Having a baby is a good way to instantly enhance your popularity. Don’t let it fool you — it’s not you they’re interested in.
  • There is no way to convey to a non-parent the pure joy you feel at the sight of a stinky, sticky mound of poop in a diaper, after a day and a half without one.
  • Your thoughts at 5:30 AM are neither as lucid nor as profound as they seem.
  • It’s all worth it. And then some.