Why I don’t read on my iPhone


Stanza‘s great. So’s Instapaper and the Kindle iPhone app. But let’s be honest here. If I look at my real app usage (this is my own personal reckoning, since I don’t have RescueTime or Google Trends for my iPhone) here’s my top 5 in terms of actual usage:

  1. Drop7
  2. Facebook
  3. Mail
  4. Twitterific
  5. NYTimes

One game, a social networking app, email, microblogging, and the news. Do you see an actual reading app here anywhere?

But what about the news, you ask? That’s reading, no?

No. Well, let’s be more specific. It’s short reading, browsing, scanning. News stories are generally around 600 words or less. Anything longer and I’m going to be worrying about my battery life or waiting to get to my computer. I’m going to generalize here and say that my app usage is for short, bite-sized activities. Small, just like the iPhone’s screen.

Now, I’m sure there are people out there who actually do slog through long reads on their iPhones (using the aforementioned apps). For some, I’m sure it’s a point of nerdy pride (“Look! I can read a free sci-fi eBook on my handheld device!”) and for others it is an occasional convenience (“Bored. Stuck here without any reading material. Oh yeah, I can use my iPhone to read that article I saved to instapaper 3 weeks ago!”).

But let’s be honest: reading on the iPhone is sub-optimal at best.

Why? Because reading, the long, focused trance of real reading is, and should be, a pleasure, not a convenience. To be able to sink into a well-wrought text requires an environment relatively free of distraction — and that includes the reading surface itself — because following complex thoughts and detailed verbal description is like walking a tightrope. Any little lapse in concentration — an inconsistent scrolling of the text, finding the pagination, targeting the next page button, waiting more than a second for it to load, an accidental tap or swipe that jogs the interface, a new message — breaks the spell, and the words go back to being mere words and the world your imagination has been constructing burns away like a fog.

It’s the difference between watching a movie on YouTube versus going into a dark theater with comfortable seats, immense screen, and surround sound. People will continue to pay (the price of a paperback) for that experience, just as they will continue to pay for well-set, well-edited books on good paper.

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