I repeat the same conversation over and over again. It starts:
"You don't like the Wired iPad app? Why? It's so [positive adjective]."
"Well, for one — It's not even text ..."
"But it looks just like the printed copy!"
At which point I then dive into my spiel1 about artifacts and digital text and what we should expect from our digital reading experiences.
The bottom line is: most of our ereading experiences are pretty bad. And many of us don't realize it.
iPad is still a baby — barely six months old! — so we're clearly still in a developmental and experimentation phase. But I feel like many readers, authors, editors and publishers simply don't know how to assess their digital reading experience. I always like to follow up spiels with URLs, so consider this the followup URL to my ereader spiel if we've ever met in person.
In order to assess something we need a rubric. Criteria. Standards. Metrics. A baseline. So let's set one together. (Please add your metrics in the comments.)
For me, the first question I ask when trying new ereader software is:
Is the reading experience 'better' than reading in a browser?
In a rush to invent new containers for reading on tablets, we seem to have forgotten that browsers are pretty damn good at text. Thanks to accessibility and standardization efforts, they're capable layout engines.2 And the typography is getting better by the minute. 3 Reading a webpage on a tablet computer may not be perfect, but you'll see that it fulfills almost all of our baseline digital reading experience and accessibility metrics.
Which begs the question: If most ereading software doesn't offer a better experience than simple HTML and CSS, why are so many publishers reinventing the wheel? 4
Grab your iPad, open your nearest ereader/magazine/content focused application and ask the following question:
Everything else builds off of this.
As a bonus, I think the following metric will become steadily more important in our ereading experience:
Many of these metrics are accessibility related. It's scary that most of the highly-praised ereaders (such as Wired / New Yorker / Time magazine's apps) eliminate the inherent accessibility of digital text. Of course, this is a transition period, but why not start off on the right foot? Digital text isn't the same artifact that printed text is. Let's not treat it like it is.
Until things improve, I'll be reading those excellent long-form New Yorker pieces in Instapaper,7 thanks.
What do you look for in an ereader?