I didn’t expect to quit paper so easily. Sure, I love technology, but I also love reading, and I’ve always found paper to be the most pleasurable delivery system for the written word. I stopped subscribing to a daily print newspaper around five years ago, but that was mostly because of price, not utility. I long believed that the Web and e-readers were functionally inferior to newsprint, which is fantastically good at laying out lots of stories in a way that quickly conveys editorial importance. Until a couple years ago, I consumed the majority of the books I read in print—printed text was easier on my eyes, and I didn’t like buying books that were locked up in a format tied to a single device. It was only when Amazon began making Kindle reading apps for smartphones and tablets that I dove into e-books, which were just too convenient and cheap to pass up.
But I thought it would be a long time before I gave up on print magazines. I revere magazines. The New Yorker, Harper’s, and Wired were my introduction to the glories of long-form journalism, and today I spend too much money on more magazines than I can ever hope to read. Although many print magazines have long offered their articles on the Web and the Kindle, these digital versions were awful approximations of the real thing. They lacked compelling graphic design, and they often presented magazines as a disjointed series of articles, not as an experience you could savor from cover to cover.
Then, last month, I got the new iPad, which is equipped with an ultra high-resolution display. Apple calls it the Retina display, because the pixels are so close together that your eyes can’t tell them apart. Practically speaking, this makes for text that’s sharper and clearer than you’ve ever seen on a mobile device. To my eyes, reading on the new iPad feels just as comfortable as reading on a Kindle or even in print. But where the Retina screen really shines is in displaying graphics. The Retina iPad is the first electronic device on which photos look better than they do on magazine pages. Colors are more brilliant, they never fade, and the shots are dynamic—many newspaper and magazine apps let you expand and zoom in on photos, allowing images to play an even bigger part in a story’s narrative.
It’s taken time for the magazine industry to catch up to the new iPad—only in the last few weeks have some of my favorite magazines, including the New Yorker, released apps that take advantage of the Retina display. But now that they have, the iPad has become transformative. The Retina display has brought iPad magazines up to par, as a reading experience, with their print counterparts. And when you consider the other advantages of iPad mags—you can have lots of them on hand, you can read them in the dark, you never lose your place—the electronic version wins the day.
In fact, since getting the new iPad, I’ve pretty much stopped reading on paper altogether. Now, other than greeting cards, I’ve got no use for the stuff. When I do page through print newspapers and magazines, I feel something novel—the sensation that I’m experiencing an inferior product.
I’m surprised by how quickly I shifted to a paper-free lifestyle. For one thing, the magazine industry doesn’t have a good track record with technology. When Apple released the iPad in 2010, many publications rushed to colonize the device, but I found their initial efforts lacking. IPad versions of my favorite print magazines were often buggy (the New Yorker app crashed so often I quit using it), required lengthy downloads of new issues, and sometimes demanded a separate subscription from the print version.