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Posted by Tom, June 11, 2013

How do you read?

Apple made headlines yesterday with the unveiling of several new software products at their World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco – chief among them a new operating system, iOS 7, for their mobile devices. Much as we’d love to be, none of Nosy Crow were at WWDC, unfortunately – but some of us followed the announcements closely online. And the one that seemed to make a particular splash among the publishing community was news that they would launch a desktop version of iBooks, their e-reading software. On Twitter, Dean Johnson (@activrightbrain) wrote that “This. Will. Make. A. Difference.”

I’m not sure. Will it? Digital devices offer fantastic potential for different sorts of hugely innovative reading experiences (like our storybook apps, for instance), but is there really much of an appetite for reading straightforward books on a desktop machine (a PC or laptop)? There already is a desktop Kindle app (so that you can read Kindle purchases on a computer), but doing so strikes me as being inconvenient and a bit uncomfortable – lots and lots of closely-typed text off a bright, backlit screen for any length time is likely to cause eye-strain. That’s also a problem that might come about from reading from an iPad, of course, but there is something about the portability of a touchscreen – being able to read from it while squashed onto a train, slumped across a sofa, or lying in bed – that makes it feel like a natural activity to me. And for many people who spend all day sat in front of a desktop machine, I suspect the thought of reading a book from one might feel a bit too much like work.

But then, reading habits are deeply personal. I am rather ashamed to say that, despite my profession, and digital interests, I do not own a Kindle. I have, over the years, gradually replaced all of my magazine subscriptions with iPad ones, and I have found that to be entirely satisfying, both as a means of reading and of overcoming the conflicting problems of being unable to throw magazines away but adverse to the idea of becoming a chronic hoarder. And I’ve bought and read novels from the iBook Store to read on an iPad many times before, and never found the experience anything but a happy one.

And new research from the National Literary Trust has shown that, for the first time, children are reading more on computers and electronic devices than in print, so clearly reading habits are changing (these statistics cover all sorts of screen devices, including phones, tablets, e-readers and computers). The things I do read for pleasure on a desktop machine (in my case, a laptop) tend to be shorter and more visually-based – news websites, blogs, Twitter – and those criteria might suggest that actually the platform would work quite well for children’s reading, too.

So perhaps desktop reading will mark a new advent in the way we consume books. I’m curious – how do you like to read? On a screen? On paper? From a phone? A Kindle? An iPad?

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