Why I Love eBooks

February 24, 2011

Amazon Kindle AppI've recently fallen in love with reading books on my iPad.  When I first bought my iPad, I was nervous about reading a book on it since in general I hate reading on a computer screen.  Plus, my friends rave about the Amazon Kindle and the great reading experience it offers.  Eventually, I decided to take the plunge and ordered an eBook for the Amazon Kindle iPad app.  After reading a few chapters, I found myself falling completely in love with reading books this way.  Of course, there are disadvantages as well as advantages of this relatively new medium.

Advantage #1: Cloud Persistence

The fact that your book lives on the cloud is the biggest advantage.  I love that I can start reading my book on my iPad, continue reading it on my iPhone and then continue reading on my PC or Mac.  Amazon's Kindle app has multiple clients and it allows you to access your book from all of these locations.  The clients all sync the last read location to the cloud, so you can pick up exactly where you left off.

Advantage #2: Burn-Proof

Since books are stored in cloud, my eBook is essentially burn proof.  If my house burns down and I lose all my books, I don't lose any of my eBooks.  They are all stored online in Amazon's cloud.  Now, this isn't a fool proof system, but I will touch on this later when I refer to questions of ownership.

Advantage #3: Note Taking

I read a fair amount of technical books and I highlight text or take notes on sections that I really like.  When the book is done, I often want to convert those notes and highlights into a single resource.  With a physical book, I have to flip through every page of the book to find the highlighted text and/or notes and then write them down.

With an eBook, you highlight text using the eReader your notes from each passage are indexed  for easy access later.  I can even take notes on passages in the book which are also indexed.  I don't need to switch context by picking up a highlighter or pen as I would need to with a real book.  I can read something, reflect on its significance and then "touch" the words I like to highlight them.

Additionally, since my eBook is cloud persistent, I can access all my highlights and notes are available from other computers.  I can access them from another Kindle app or log into kindle.amazon.com.  This is a powerful tool and it should not be underestimated, especially if you are a studious software developer.

Advantage #4: Books as Hypermedia

The Internet is composed of hypermedia, which is defined as documents on the web that link to other documents, audio, video, images through hyperlinks.  Web browsers are our conduits to hypermedia, allowing us to jump back and forth between documents via their hyperlinks.  These documents and their hyperlinks intertwine to form the World Wide Web.

Physical books aspire to be like hypermedia, as evident by footnotes, endnotes and references to other books.  You can "browse" back and forth between the bibliography and the page you are reading, but in general, this becomes an interruption in flow.  With an eBook, the ability to "browse" is analogous to using a web browser that allows you to jump back and forth between a page you are reading and another linked section of the book.  I was quite surprised to find that my eBook felt more like a web page than a book, which made my experience of jumping around more enjoyable.

Advantage #5: Inline Definitions

Another simple advantage of eBooks that caught me by surprise was inline definitions.  If you come across a word that you don't know, all you have to do is highlight the word and the definition pops up.  Once again, having access to this feature without switching contexts by opening up a dictionary and looking up the word is huge advantage over physical books.

Advantage #6: Recommended Passages

The Amazon Kindle app also provides something I didn't see coming:  recommended passages.  When I bought my book, I noticed that certain passages were already highlighted.  These passages were not recommended by Amazon employees themselves, rather by other Kindle readers who had also highlighted that text.  I can even see how many people highlighted a particular recommended passage, which in a way can be seen as an indicator of its significance.

Advantage #7: Travel Light

Another great advantage of e-books is I can carry my whole library with me whenever I go.  Books can all be downloaded and stored on my iPad without taking up space in my suitcase.  While I am focusing on the advantages for my next beach trip, I am sure students also love this advantage.  No more bulky textbooks?

Disadvantage #1: Tactile Loss

Of course, one of the disadvantages of using an eBook is the loss of a physical book.  This is an obstacle that will keep many book stalwarts from adopting an eReader.  While I do love reading on my iPad, I do miss the feeling of pages in my hand.  I miss being able to look quickly at how many pages I had left based on the location of the bookmark.  This is just something you have to get over if you want to take advantage of eBooks.

Disadvantage #2: Battery Operated

I am writing this article right now and not reading my book because my iPad ran out of batteries and needs to charge.  I could have picked up right where I left off with my Mac or my iPhone, but the experience of reading from these devices isn't the same.  The iPad's screen is just the right size for reading a book.  The iPad itself is about the size of a large book, although much heavier.  It's portability makes it better than a laptop, and it's size makes it better than an iPhone for reading books.

Disadvantage #3: Not Always Accessible

Even though I can access my eBook from multiple devices all with varying degrees of portability, there are some locations that you will never be allowed to use an electronic device.  If you are a frequent traveller, then the 30 minutes or so at take off and landing are perfect examples where you can't read your eBook on any device.  If you work in a secure environment where portable electronics are prohibited, you may not have access to your eBook.

Disadvantage #4: No More Page Numbers

This is another disadvantage of eBooks.  If I wanted to refer somebody else to my favorite passage, I could not point them to a page number since Kindle and the rest of the eReaders don't use page numbers.  The Kindle uses Locations to point to specific points in the book, which don’t map to page numbers, but likely maps to paragraphs.  If you are joining a book club, you may want to figure out how to map to pages first.

Disadvantage #5: Questions of ownership

If Amazon goes out of business or if they change their terms of use, I may find myself with limited access to books that I thought I owned.  This is why I would prefer to buy an eBook and download the raw file, upload that file to an eReader, and then store that file in my own backup location.  This allows me to manage my own collection of eBooks without having to rely on the upon an Internet giant. (I can't imagine Amazon imploding, but hey you never know.)


If you are hesitant to try eBooks, I highly recommend you give it a shot and download one.  If you are a developer like myself who reads a lot of technical books, then I think it is a must that you get an eBook reader.  I personally prefer the Amazon Kindle app over Apple's iBook, but that is a matter of preference.  Both have similar features, and if you are using an iPad, you can switch between them.

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