Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Reading Devices / Selling Devices

Despite my unpatriotic attitude about reading devices, during the past few weeks I have been experimenting with different tablets, as a staff development project. I have been exploring and comparing an iPad, a Kindle Fire, a Nook Tablet, and a no-name tablet running an older version of android.

First I needed to find a wireless signal. The wireless signal in the library building does not saturate everywhere, so I found myself not entirely mobile, restricted to certain areas. In my office, for example, I got no connection at all, but a colleague's office was a veritable hotspot. Luckily the service desk was also a hotspot, because I soon realized that everything moved quicker if I could use a personal computer (in particular the keyboard) simultaneously with the tablets. 

Next there was making sure all of the batteries were charged, and then I needed to create new accounts on them (in preference to using my own personal profiles). So I created a Google account (for the Android apps), an Apple ID, an Amazon account, and a Barnes and Noble account. In order to test our library products, I needed SciVerse and ebrary accounts.  

Each tablet has its own interface and quirks, so then I needed to learn the basics of each one. This is not as difficult as learning four new computers, but it's along those lines.

And now I'm getting comfortable with them. The biggest surprise so far has been realizing how inescapably commercial they all are. By commercial, I mean they are as much selling devices as reading devices. The iPad is tied to Apple and iTunes; the Kindle Fire is tied to Amazon; the Nook Tablet to Barnes and Noble. To engage in activities outside of those respective bubbles is like pushing against gravity. We found a work-around for iTunes, but I currently cannot download free e-books from Amazon to the Kindle Fire because I refuse to enter a credit card, and One-Click, which the Kindle Fire uses, requires one.

It's true that I'm using these devices as a librarian and not a normal customer, but I'm surprised a normal customer would be so ... gullible? Is that the right word? Technology news stories depict a future where there are no internet browsers, only apps, and I can confirm that extended use of the browsers on any of these devices is not a great user experience. Some apps are free, but others are not. And frequently the free apps have a commercial or promotional orientation.

I'm thinking this is just another step on a continuum: First we had the wild west of the internet, which was great for the public but not great for business, and now we have these devices as a response -- great for business but not great for the public. Will a compromise come next?

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update 8/2/12: I just got an email from Amazon promoting streaming videos for the iPad, and I also learned that with a microSD card I can install Android on the Nook Tablet. So I should have included a paragraph about collusion here as well.

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