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In plane sight: tablets and e-books take flight

Ease of use makes e-books and tablets a common choice for inflight reading.

Ease of use makes e-books and tablets a common choice for inflight reading.

So you're off on another business trip. You've settled into your seat on the plane, and face many long hours stretching ahead of you.

You reach into your carry-on bag and pull out – what? An iPad? A Kindle? The latest issue of your favourite magazine, or a book?

It certainly seems that books, at least in their printed "dead tree" format, are slowly being pushed off the inflight reading list.

It's no accident that air travel spawned its own category of literature in the form of the "airport novel".

These large, thick paperback tomes are geared to passengers with engaging, easy-to-read escapism to reduce the boredom factor in long flights.

As Ian Fleming freely admitted of his James Bond adventures, "I write for warm-blooded heterosexuals in railway trains, aeroplanes and beds."

But is the new wave of technology setting up books for their own cliffhanger ending?

This week's sales debut of the iPad Mini is going to be seriously tempting for travellers, especially those growing tired of carting books and magazines for inflight reading.

Compared to its larger sibling, the Mini's smaller screen – 20 centimetres on the diagonal, against 24.6 centimetres for the original iPad – and lower price tag (starting at $369) are equally geared for portability and tablet holdouts.

That applies even more so to Google's Nexus 7 tablet, with a slightly smaller 17.8-centimetre screen and a significantly lower $249 sticker.

These tablets join a growing category of travel-friendly gadgets that I am seeing in increasing numbers on planes and in airport lounges and hotel lobbies.

On most flights, regardless of whether I'm in business class or economy, it's rare not to see at least one passenger in any given row using a tablet or e-book reader.

I also make a quick tech tally on most visits to airport lounges, and in the past few months tablets seem to be drawing neck-and-neck with laptops.

Quite a few travellers pack both: a laptop for work and a tablet or e-book reader for down time.

Of course, tablets also make it easier to jump online or dive into your inbox compared with powering up and juggling a laptop.

E-book readers play a more specialised role. They're single-purpose devices that do one thing very well, with an experience that's optimised for books. Think of them as a sharp knife instead of a Swiss Army knife.

And e-book readers are even cheaper than tablets, starting at $100 for the new Kobo Mini due next month, and $139 for the classic Amazon Kindle.

In the middle of all this rampant tech, do books and magazines have a place on the plane any more?

So this week, as the iPad Mini looms and the "tablet wars" get warmer, High Flyer is taking a snap poll on the reading habits of Australia's business travellers and frequent flyers.

Book, magazine, tablet or e-book reader – what's your choice of inflight reading, and why?

David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.

Twitter: @AusBT


28 comments so far

  • I've got an early model Kindle, the one with the keyboard, which I never use and which always gets in the way, and I'm about to ditch this for either one of the new 'Paper White' Kindles OR a 7 inch tablet. Waiting for the iPad Mini to go on sale so I can drop into an Apple store and try it out, see what it's like for magazines especially. Then I'll either get the Mini, the Nexus 7 or the newest Kindle.

    I still bring the odd magazine to flick through, especially during that time before take-off and in early part of the flight when you can't use electronic devices, but for most of the flight it's a digital device for me.

    Son of Ryan Bingham
    Date and time
    October 31, 2012, 1:52PM
    • I also have a keyboard Kindle and am thinking of upgrading to the paper white version but only if it's 3G/4G. One of the attractions, for me, of the Kindle is the ability to buy books on the run.

      Date and time
      November 01, 2012, 12:53PM
  • A plane is the least useful place for a tablet/e-reader due to having to have them turned off for at least twenty minutes at either end of the trip. A plane is the only time to read a physical book now...otherwise e-reader all the way.

    Tim the Toolman
    Date and time
    October 31, 2012, 2:48PM
    • Very happy with my ebook reader; even more so since I discovered that Baen sells a large chunk of their catalog as dirt cheap ebooks - my backlog has grown dramatically since that day. It's just a shame that the price fixing settlement doesn't seem to apply to Australian purchases; means that I don't buy as many ebooks from Amazon as I might have done. I don't expect them to be hugely cheaper than physical books (have a read of Charlie Stross's "Common Misconceptions About Publishing" for why), but more expensive than the equivalent paperback? I think NOT.

      Date and time
      October 31, 2012, 3:01PM
      • And when an eBook is more expensive than a hard cover - no way. I love my Kindle but I'm not a fool with money. Publishers treat us like this at their peril.

        Date and time
        November 01, 2012, 12:52PM
    • I prefer to sleep.

      Date and time
      October 31, 2012, 3:23PM
      • Nothing beats the feeling a 'real' novel in my hands. Although, for ease, being a Law student and Literature major, it does help to have legislation and different texts that I'm currently studying on my iPad. What isn't so handy is that even with the abundance of apps available to underline and write notes, I can't take it into my exams, so it's practically useless in that regard.

        Date and time
        October 31, 2012, 3:33PM
        • My Kindle Touch is my constant companion. He lives in my handbag at all times ready to be pulled out over lunch or while waiting, well, anywhere. His brother, a K3, sits at my bedside ready for bed time reading. I can't imagine hopping on a plane without my Kindle. I've become very adept at sensing the flight attendants and casually closing the cover and holding him on my lap when one comes by. Eventually, the aviation industry will catch up with technology, until then, I'm not above being sneaky.

          Date and time
          October 31, 2012, 4:48PM
          • Congratulations, I assume you are also one of the passengers who doesn't pay attention to the safety demonstration, fasten your seatbelt when the sign goes on and brings a carry-on bag that takes two people to lift and takes up most of the available room in the overhead locker. I love travelling with you...

            Personally I have an iPad which I use until I'm asked to switch it off and then manage to live without it for the relatively short time it takes for the pilot to get me safely up to cruising alttitude and then later, back on the ground. In between I enjoy a good read.

            Date and time
            October 31, 2012, 9:30PM
          • Safety not a priority for you then I take it. What an incredibly selfish person.

            Date and time
            November 01, 2012, 9:13AM

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