In a tent on the shore of Gonzaga Bay in Baja Mexico I’m laying in my mummy-sack reading Mark Jenkins’ A Man’s Life: Dispatches from Dangerous Places. The book is a collection of essays covering Jenkins’ adventures and travels to the fringes of the world.
Tired, I hit the power button on my iPhone, the backlight of the screen flicks off, and I drop the hardy little device into a side pocket in the tent. Under a sky shot through with stars, on a nearly deserted beach, I realize the strength of convergence is in carrying less.
On the road — and we’ll use this term provisionally — my iPhone converged books, magazines, newspapers, a phone, video player, music player, flashlight, laptop (for basic e-mail and updates) and notepad … because I was forced to use my notepad to dig the bike out of sand back at Valle de Los Gigantes, outside San Filipe.
This happened on the way to see the giant Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea Gigantea). The Honda Varadero dug in until the belly, chain, and sprockets were completely submerged in the sand. Score one for old media, because you’re not doing that with your Kindle or iPad. Well maybe the Kindle…
If you are looking at a Kindle as a means of taking your library with you on the road, there are a few considerations. The need for 3G coverage is crippling in areas that are without, whereas when I go into town here in Gonzaga (a handful of buildings and a gas station) the beer hall/restaurant has wi-fi.
Indeed, throughout my travels in Northern Canada and the Baja, free wi-fi has been more ubiquitous than across the United States. I’ve been keeping up with e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, even posting short articles from the iPhone, which ultimately means that for this kind of trip, an adventure ride down the eastern side of the Baja, a Kindle just won’t do. And that’s even before you factor in that you can’t read it at night in the tent, due to the lack of a backlight (though the light from the iPhone will attract bugs, so remember to zip the fly up.)
Beyond that, the Kindle’s physical form simply isn’t up to more rugged adventures; the screen is exposed and vulnerable to scratches, the actual case isn’t build to take a beating, and the keyboard will take on dust, mud or sand.
Here in the Baja, the sand gets everywhere. Even the iPhone isn’t immune — a few grains having managed to work their way under the glass, the boldest of which can be seen between the D and the X when the virtual keyboard is active. After last year’s Arctic Adventure, I can recommend mud for no device.
The biggest problem on the road with the Kindle is that it breaks convergence by focusing on being an e-reader; other functionality is just an afterthought. I’m not living rough on this adventure, but space and weight counts when you’re traveling, so having to pack the Kindle in addition to a phone puts the Amazon product into the “expendable device” category when choosing between the emergency blankets and some light reading.
My time with the Kindle was predictably short — its restrictions saw me calling Amazon’s return hotline before my 30-days of gray-scale reading were up. I will admit to missing the Kindle’s viewing area and the on-the-fly dictionary definitions, but the iPhone is infinitely more convenient for consuming media on the road despite the eyestrain.
Waiting for the laundry? For the waiter? For the gas attendant? Help to arrive? The iPhone is already on your person and you can plow through the better part of a chapter in the time allotted. And yes, in a number of circumstances, the iPhone will let you call for help.
So while the rest of the world may be running for the phoneless iPad, I’m less convinced — like the Kindle, the iPad amounts to one more thing to carry. If you could tether it to a a Sat-Phone and tap out messages on the virtual keyboard, the iPad could well be the convergence device for my next trip.
In the end, the more functionality stuffed into a single device the better, especially for life as a human on the road and off.
“Tents on the Baja” courtesy of Neil Johnston
“On the Road” courtesy of Neil Johnston
iPad and IPhone, courtesy of Apple Computer
Kindle, courtesy of Amazon