I read my first ebook in 1990. It was William Gibson's Count Zero, and I read it on Apple's Hypercard stacks program. I loved the experience, particularly being able to highlight a character's name and call up every occurrence of that character in the text. Hypercard didn't last, but I was hooked. I could see the future.
In 2000, I worked in a dot com start up called Bookface.com, long vanished now, but one of the first to be taken seriously in the ebook space. (First to market, first to, well you know...). While working at the company, where I read Michael Swanwick's The Iron Dragon's Daughter in our proprietary browser-format, I found that reading online books radically increased my own purchase of physical books. This trend continues...
For the last year, I've been doing all my manuscript submission reading on Stanza for iPhone, and have recently been editing on it as well (most recently The Dervish House and The Goblin Corps). Now I've gotten an iPad, and I've started reading manuscripts in iBooks (using Stanza Desktop's "Save as ePub" feature to convert Word docs, which are then easy to upload to iTunes with a simple click of the "add to Library" menu button.)
I've learned that I can walk and read, and, in fact, walking and reading cuts down on all the distractions offered by the Glorious Desktop Screen, so I'm reading on Stanza for iPhone in the morning, and in iBooks on iPad in the afternoon in Starbucks. (I walked 11 hours over the last four days, by the way. Drunk a lot of coffee too.)
I've purchased books for the Kindle app, the Barnes & Noble eReader app, and the iBook app. And I've downloaded quite a few free ones. I don't own a Kindle or Nook, but I have played on the former briefly and borrowed the latter for a few days from my father - before it froze up on him and he returned it! Yesterday, I finished reading Fritz Leiber's Swords & Deviltry on the B&N eReader on my iPhone, and I completed a 10 day long (chapter a day) read of Winnie the Pooh to my son on iPad.
So here's my thoughts on eReaders, with the caveat that my needs are fairly specific, given that I read more manuscripts than finished books, and YMMV.
First in general, I really don't like e-ink, which looks to me like reading off a digital watch. I do my pleasure reading in bed, from 6 to 6:35 am while my wife sleeps, and I need the back-lighting. And I like color. And I just much prefer the screen on my phone to the screen on either the Kindle or Nook.
When reading documents on the iPhone, Stanza is far and away the best reader, given how easy it is to upload, how easy it is to cut-and-email paragraphs (to authors, with notes) and also the general user-friendly and aesthetic experience of the reader itself. Because it's such a versatile device, it loses some formatting, particularly italics, so it's not my ideal reading device for commercially-available books, just manuscripts. The Kindle app, by contrast, is a much less comfortable reading experience. I've noticed weird kerning and leading between words in the way text is displayed, and I just don't find it comfortable on the eyes. So for commercially-available books, I use the B&N eReader software. It was the most comfortable read, the best display, in many ways, the most like Stanza actually. My only complaint is the number of books they offer that are currently missing their covers, and the inability to customize your ebooks by manually adding the cover you want back in (as you can with Stanza).
However, it should be said that Kindle for iPad is gorgeous, much much better than Kindle for iPhone, or really, the actual Kindle itself. And, while you cannot purchase magazines for your Kindle for iPhone ap, Apple has very wisely chosen to treat the Kindle for iPad like another form of Kindle, and you can read magazines on it. I downloaded samples of Asimov's and Realms of Fantasy, and was impressed with the display. I've yet to read a whole book on the Kindle for iPad app, but plan to soon (most likely starting with Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, since I already own it in this format as well as hardcover -- see prior comment about ebooks/physical books.) I expect I could be reading magazines on the Kindle app soon too.
Where iBooks scores over all of them is the ability to upload your existing ePub files into iTunes with a click, which is as simple and elegant as adding MP3s to iTunes has trained us to expect. And in its display. I would have thought two weeks ago that I wouldn't have cared less about replicating the look of a book turning pages, but I have to say it made reading Winnie the Pooh to my son, who thrilled at watching the pages flip under his finger. Also, the artwork in the book, essential for children's books of this age range, looked fantastic. The artwork in Kindle books, by contrast, looks much much better on the iPad than on the iPhone, but still has a box of contrast around it (the white of the illustration background against the white of their page). I have Elric: Stealer of Souls in Kindle format, though, and I must say that Picacio's artwork looks amazing. So I am nitpicking, as the Kindle books I've sampled on the iPad all look great and Kindle for iPad is a very close second to iBooks. And, of course, you cannot beat Kindle for availability of titles, which is key.
What I'd like to see from iBooks soon is the ability to annotate the text and export the annotations. As it is, you can already copy selections of text and then close out of the application and paste them into emails, which makes it fine for manuscripts requiring a light edit, but not great for ones requiring a heavy one. (For those, I'd use the Pages app, except that it is wonderful in all respects but one: it lacks a Track Changes feature, making it useless for editing!!!) I'd also like to see an iPhone version of iBooks, but since we are reportedly seeing that come the next OS update this summer, I'm happy.
In summary, I wish I could come down to just one app on one device, but I figure I'm going to end up using multiple apps on two devices, both with an i at the start of their names. I expect that for manuscripts I'll continue using Stanza for iPhone when I need to be at my most mobile, iBooks for iPad otherwise, and that for my own ebook purchases I'll probably stick to iBooks (whose selection isn't yet where it needs to be), with occasional purchases from B&N. I would have already purchased Swords & Death from them, if their eReader were optimized for the iPad. As it is, I'm waiting.
But I cannot see purchasing a Kindle or a Nook when you can purchase an iPad and have the option of all three reading platforms in one device, that also surfs the web, does email, plays games, streams movies, etc...
So, screw all those cliched complaints about "Where's my Flying Car?" - this is the future world I've personally been waiting on since 1990. I might even have to go full circle and reread Count Zero.