While book lovers console each other with anecdotes about how hard it is to beat the experience of a real book, it seems that they’re already telling researchers a different story.
A new usability study by leading usability researcher Jakob Nielsen lined up the printed book against digital editions on the Kindle, iPad and PC. It came up with results that might surprise advocates of the printed book.
After using each device, we asked users to rate their satisfaction on a 1–7 scale, with 7 being the best score. iPad, Kindle, and the printed book all scored fairly high at 5.8, 5.7, and 5.6, respectively. The PC, however, scored an abysmal 3.6.
The poor showing of the PC was predictable but it’s interesting to see just how well these first-generation e-readers stack up against the printed book. Admittedly, my headline is a slight beat-up: the lead that Kindle and iPad had over print was not statistcally significant. But it’s a strong showing, especially since the reading material being tested was narrative fiction so e-readers would have gained no advantage from digital-specific functions such as search or portability.
In case you think these results might have been biased by a bunch of geeks in the survey sample, it seems the main criteria for selecting participants was that they like reading and frequently read books.
Nielsen’s study did find that electronic readers still can’t match the printed book for reading speed: the iPad was 6.2% slower than the printed boook and the Kindle was 10.7% slower.
Nielsen says the difference between iPad and Kindle reading speeds was not statistically significant but the difference between electronic and print was. However, the e-readers are already close to printed books and will rapidly improve.
And as this blog post from The Digital Reader points out, the results might have been even better if the participants had been experienced e-readers rather than (probably) newbies.