Turn your old iPad into a dedicated e-reader

Lex Friedman
13 July, 2012
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Turning an iPad into a one-trick e-reading pony may seem counter-intuitive. After all, your iPad can take on lots of tasks from surfing the web to marshalling an army of angry birds. Why limit yourself to just one task, even if that task is as pleasurable as sitting down with a good book?

Because, try as you might, you simply can’t ignore the other tantalising distractions your iPad has to offer and stripping those out will help you lose yourself in a good read. Because you’ve upgraded to a newer model and you’re not ready to recycle that old iPad just yet. And – if you happen to use an original iPad – because your device’s future is about to get a lot more limited. iOS 6 will introduce a lot of new features when it arrives this spring – and your original iPad won’t be able to handle any of them, as the forthcoming iOS update won’t run on your first-generation tablet.

Here’s the good news: You don’t have to do anything fancy to convert an old iPad into a dedicated e-reader. But if you take some time to better customise your older iPad, you can take it from a merely capable e-reading device to a top-notch one.

Is it worth it?

You can buy a dedicated e-reader like Amazon’s Kindle for a lot less, so does it make sense to use your original iPad, for which you paid at least $500 as an e-reader? Obviously, one argument in the old iPad’s favour is the fact that you own it already.

But a Kindle or similar e-Ink reader does sport some advantages of its own: Such a device is considerably lighter – making it easier to hold one-handed. And some users find that the e-Ink screen is easier on the eyes for extended reading jags when compared to the iPad’s LCD screen.

The thriftier among us may balk at plunking down more money on a new e-reader when they already have a serviceable tablet from Apple. And while some elements of the reading experience may be superior on a Kindle, the iPad certainly offers some advantages of its own, like its speed, colour display and support for multitouch.

Configuring the iPad

Any iPad, of course, can function as an e-reader. But if your goal is to make the iPad a dedicated reader, there are some settings you ought to consider tweaking – mostly to minimise distractions. A Kindle won’t pop up alerts or try to capture your attention; with a little effort, your iPad won’t either.

We’ll talk about which apps you will want on your e-reading iPad shortly, but first let’s talk about which apps you probably won’t need: Any others. If this iPad is to function successfully as an e-reader, it can’t hurt to remove Angry Birds, Words With Friends or Facebook. If you’re hesitant to remove perfectly good apps that you just might want at some unspecified time in the future, at least consider combining all those apps into an iOS folder: That folder icon is far less tempting to tap on than, say, the silhouetted linksman gracing the icon of Super Stickman Golf.

Once you’ve removed or hidden away potential app distractions, make sure that even the apps you’re not ready (or, in the case of iOS’s built-in apps, not able) to part with won’t distract you, either. Head over to the Settings app and tap on Notifications. iOS 5 lacks a global switch for turning off notifications, so it’s a good thing you deleted a bunch of apps one paragraph ago – now you have less work on the Notifications settings screen.

To prevent your iPad’s other apps from interrupting reading time, tap on each in turn and set the Alert Style to None for every single app. Now, any apps that update in the background won’t splash a banner or alert across the screen when they do so.

Your other option would be to enable Airplane mode whenever you’re reading – also from the Settings app – which would prevent your iPad from accessing the internet. It’s a fine, battery saving choice, but then you have to remember to turn Airplane mode off again when you want to download more books.

While you’re in Settings, also consider removing any email or calendar accounts still saved in the Mail, Contacts, Calendars section; if this iPad is for reading, there’s no sense letting those apps gobble up extra bandwidth and battery. And if you haven’t already, under General, ensure that the Side Switch is set to Lock Rotation and not Mute; you’ll need the former option far more often if you move around as you read.

Which apps you need

Put bluntly: Get the apps you need to read the content you want. If you’d like your dedicated e-reading iPad for books, grab Amazon’s Kindle app and Apple’s iBooks app. There are plenty of other e-reading apps; unless you already own books for another platform (like Kobo or Nook), there’s no need to pursue those.

You may want to read content from other sources, for which you should of course download the right app. If you plan to use your e-reading iPad to read long-form content you encounter around the web, you’ll want an app like InstapaperPocket or Readability. And if you envision using this iPad to discover web content you’d like to read, consider installing apps like Zite or Flipboard, apps that assemble content from assorted sources you define into reading-optimised, magazine-style layouts.

Should you wish to use your iPad for true magazine reading, navigate the App Store’s Newsstand section to find your favourite publications. Newsstand-compatible publications will appear in the Newsstand folder on your iPad and the latest issues download automatically behind-the-scenes on the device.

Final thoughts

The iPad’s backlight provides sufficient lighting; as a result, you won’t need to spring for a lamp or book light as you might with another company’s e-reader. If you’re reading in the dark, say before sleep beckons, you can dial down your iPad’s brightness nearly all the way – and potentially choose the nighttime reading mode for the app you’re using – and still see just fine without blinding your retinas.


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