Slower Reading on iPad is Good Thing

I got caught up in the U.S. Independence holiday and forgot to post (three days ago) about Jakob Nielsen’s “iPad and Kindle Reading Speeds.” Jakob is a user experience (UX) expert, who has published usability column “Alert Box” since 1995.

In the July 2nd column, he explains about usability testing comparing book reading to Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad. The results are based on 24 participants. “On each device, we asked each user to read a short story by Ernest Hemingway,” he writes. “We picked Hemingway because his work is pleasant and engaging to read, and yet not so complicated that it would be above the heads of users. On average, the stories took 17 minutes and 20 seconds to read.” Participants also completed a test to quickly assess retention, which within the test’s limits was about the same for print and the ereaders.

Reading speed was fastest from print, which is not the least bit surprising to me. Jakob writes:

The iPad measured at 6.2 percent lower reading speed than the printed book, whereas the Kindle measured at 10.7 percent slower than print. However, the difference between the two devices was not statistically significant because of the data’s fairly high variability.

Thus, the only fair conclusion is that we can’t say for sure which device offers the fastest reading speed. In any case, the difference would be so small that it wouldn’t be a reason to buy one over the other.

But we can say that tablets still haven’t beaten the printed book: the difference between Kindle and the book was significant at the p<.01 level, and the difference between iPad and the book was marginally significant at p=.06.

I can attest with certainty that my reading speed on iPad is slower than for print. Wow, it’s such a great thing, too. For reasons I can’t yet identify, I find reading on iPad to be considerably more immersive than any other reading medium that I’ve used. This immersive experience is the main reason why on June 15th, I posted at Betanews: “I was wrong about Apple iPad.” Six months earlier I asserted: “The world doesn’t need an Apple tablet, or any other.” From the “I was wrong” post:

On further reflection, I realized that iPad offers fresh functionality: Immersion. I find there are fewer reading distractions, and content is better presented than on a laptop and browser. I’m more focused and retain more of what I read. For reasons not easily explained, I find myself more thoroughly reading iBooks than defaulting to the skimming I sometimes do with physical books. Part of this immersive experience is the technology, but also how iPad is used. Apple’s tablet is a sit down and focus device, as much because of size and shape as screen and user interface. The totality—physical design and software benefits—is immersion.

I would be curious about further tests examining iPad reading speeds and, more importantly, retention compared to print. But for me, and obviously I can’t speak for anyone else, slower reading on iPad is improved reading.

Editor’s Note: This post was moved to from on Sept. 27, 2010.

Do you have a reading story that you’d like told? Please email Joe Wilcox: joewilcox at gmail dot com.