In many ways, the iPad represents very different point in the design space of hand-held devices for reading. Whereas the Kindle is geared toward a low-power, book-like experience, the iPad is positioned closer to high end (but currently too heavy) slate computers. It is designed for richer interaction, for color, for animation and video, all the things that were discarded in the Kindle design for the sake of a longer battery life and less weight.
But it is not clear that the design tradeoffs embodied in the Kindle represent the largest (or the most lucrative) market for such devices. Amazon is rightly hedging its bets by introducing a Kindle reader application for the iPad, and it will be interesting to see how dramatically the iPad cuts into Kindle sales.
My sense is that the Kindle’s low weight will be its chief advantage in the near term, but it is an advantage only for reading traditional fiction. For a range of other content that benefits from color and interactivity, the iPad will trump. The other advantage of the iPad is that for all the restrictions that Apple imposes on software developers, it is an infinitely more open, and therefore more innovative, platform than the Kindle. The range of reading applications already available for the iPad suggests that it will serve different specialized uses more effectively than the “Model-T” approach to the reading experience of the Kindle.
Of course as it stands, the iPad is not a great solution for active reading, but it represents a step in the right direction. As people gain more experience with computing in this form factor, they may shift away from the more dedicated device. Whether the iPad form factor is a stable point in this design space is a different question. Its current real competition is the iPhone form factor on one hand, and the laptop or tablet PC on the other. The iPhone is more attractive due to its smaller size and weight; the laptop or tablet due to a more complete feature set, particularly for content creation. Nonetheless, some of the features that distinguish the iPad from the Kindle may appear in other devices in the not-so-distant future. I don’t think we’ll have long to wait, however, to see whether the Kindle is really a viable platform for a range of reading tasks.