The importance of apps in general, and eReaders apps in particular

The Kindle has an app store. Nook color is going to get an app store soon. If Sony stays true to form the Sony Reader will get an app store in 2020.

At the moment there isn’t really very much going on. We don’t have any eReader app store like Apple’s iPhone app store i.e. an app store that has become as important as the device itself. We don’t have any eReader apps like Facebook apps i.e. apps that have millions and millions of users using them every single day.

However, eReader apps are going to be critically important. This post will go over some of the reasons why. You could also take a look at this excellent post by Kontra at CounterNotions – How Dogma begets Anti-App Myopia.

Let’s start by looking at things that apply to all apps, including eReader apps.

The Power of Apps

Here are a few things apps do -

  1. Let users pick the winners. The importance of this can’t be over-stressed. Users tell developers whether or not an app is worth focusing on. They tell every other developer whether an app is worth competing with.
  2. Let developers provide value straight to users. Instead of a company adding 10 features in their product, they can have developers offers thousands of features – then users pick what they want.
  3. Provide free features. There are costs for the platform. However, the features are all free. There are supposed to be hundreds of thousands of iPhone app developers – Could Apple ever hire that many people? Could it ever get the variety of apps it currently has if all these people worked within Apple and followed Apple rules?
  4. Natural Selection. The fittest survive – then they have to compete against stronger rivals, and the fittest from that contest survive. It isn’t who sucked up more to the manager or who said the right things in the team meetings.
  5. Create magic customization. Each niche, and in a way each single customer, gets its own set of features.

The list is very, very long.

Fundamentally, an app store means that anyone who wants to provide value to device owners, gets a fair chance. A fair chance that doesn’t cost the app store company anything. No health insurance costs. No salary. No office space. No pain of firing the person if the app doesn’t do well.

It’s very, very low risk and high reward.

Think of eReader Apps as Developers trying to figure out ways to provide value

There’s some resistance to apps because people translate it to mean ‘things other than reading’.

There are a few other ways to translate it – value related to reading, value when in transit, value in terms of convenience, value in terms of customization, etc.

Yes, there will be apps that take away from reading, and those are probably bad. There will, however, also be apps that add solid value.

Right now we have the first few stabs – developers are trying to figure out what Kindle owners want. With time things will get better.

Let’s take a brief detour and look at the concept of 1 company vs 100,000 developers.

Can 1 company compete with 100,000 app developers?

One of the most beautiful things about an app store is that you never know what you’re going to get and you know you’re going to get things that developers really, really want to build.

The first is important because you can’t predict success – You have to take quite a few shots and try out quite a few different approaches before things fall into place. With an app store all of this is being done for you for free.

The second is important because people put in 10 times more work when they’re doing things they really, really love. An app developer making the app of his dreams is 10 times more invested than someone doing something his manager told him has to be done. This shows up in lots of ways, and it’s the difference between a feature that customers absolutely love and a feature they feel is good.

Note the ‘free’ part. Apple has hundreds of thousands of developers working for free to make the iPhone better. That is really what it comes down to.

The ‘Take It or Leave It’ aspect of apps

Something that is never given enough credit is the fact that each and every app is optional.

It’s not a feature you have to live with. It doesn’t even come pre-installed on the Phone. You choose, of your own free will, whether you want it or not.

Think of apps as an array of switches -

  1. Each switch turns on some feature. That feature provides some function – which for you is either valuable, useless, or negative.
  2. Each switch is totally under your control. You decide which switches to turn on.
  3. Each switch has a fail-safe. You can turn off anything that you find is useless or negative. You can turn it back on again if you like.

You get your phone. Then you turn on whichever switches you want and you get a stream of value flowing in. Keep the streams you like, and turn off the streams you don’t.

Developers are simply providing these streams – You control the switch.

You get to construct whatever combination of value you want. You get to change it anytime. You get to turn it all off. You control everything.

eReader Apps as optional features

 Let’s say there are 5 features Suzie’s eReader is missing – 5 features she’d really like. Let’s assume she has the Nook Color.

  1. Suzie would like Netflix.
  2. She would like an email app. 
  3. Suzie also wants a knitting app – one that lets her store photos of her favorite patterns.
  4. She would also like a Radio App. 
  5. She would like an app that searches for free WiFi.

The twist is that this list is different for every Nook Color owner. Suzie’s husband Jack would like these 5 features – Sports Scores, Stock Quotes, Email, Scrabble, Family Photos.

What should B&N do?

It can’t code each and every feature. No matter what combination of features it picks large segments of users will get left out. It’s already lost out on people who wanted eInk and people who wanted Kindle Store access – It can’t very well keep losing out on customers.

Well, with the Nook App Store it’s letting developers code all these features. Consider the Radio App – Perhaps 1 million Nook Color owners want the app and the developer makes millions, perhaps 1,000 Nook Color owners want it and the app makes $3,000.

From B&N’s perspective – either case is fine. It’s not investing anything. Whether 1 million people get value from the app or 1,000 people get value from the app the bottom line is – B&N invested nothing. Nook Color owners got extra value. B&N sold more Nook Colors because of the app being available.

It’s the ultimate win-win situation with zero risk for B&N.

Each app is an optional feature. In some cases it’s an optional feature 25 people love, and in some cases it’s an optional feature 250,000 people love. In every case it’s an optional feature that improves the Nook Color’s appeal and its value proposition.

Same for the Kindle and Kindle Apps. These are just features and mini-features that are optional and add to the appeal.

By end 2011 we’ll know how eReader App Stores are doing

By the end of this year we’ll have -

  1. A Kindle App Store that is nearly 1 and a half years old.
  2. A Nook App Store that is nearly 9 months old.

These should be at least a few really good apps in each store. There should also be at least a few very innovative apps in each store.

We’ll have a very good idea of whether or not eReader apps prove to be as powerful and important as apps on other devices.

Analyzing Kindle vs Nook Color for developers and apps

The Kindle is supported by a fledgling Kindle App Store. There are 10 or so apps so far and they’re all games.

Today, B&N released the Nook Color SDK. This will let developers build apps for Nook Color (not for Nook) and also port over Android Apps.

Kindle vs Nook Color suddenly gets a whole new dimension. We’ve already reviewed Kindle vs Nook Color vs iPad and established they’re three different devices aimed at three different markets.

Let’s see what things developers should keep in mind when considering the Kindle and Nook Color as platforms. After that, let’s try to guess which will get better apps.

Kindle vs Nook Color – The opportunity for Apps

Pros and Cons of making Kindle Apps

Here are the reasons making Kindle Apps makes sense -

  1. There’s a captive audience of somewhere between 3 and 6 million. Perhaps another 1 million Kindles get added after Oprah’s Kindle recommendation on Monday.
  2. There’s little competition – Amazon is letting in apps slowly so you have few competitors.
  3. Amazon knows how to sell. You have to assume that if you make a good app it’ll sell well.
  4. Some of the apps released so far have done very well – Scrabble and Solitaire both spent a lot of time at the top of the charts.
  5. Electronic Arts must have found something for it to keep developing apps. It has now released 4 apps – If it wasn’t making money you’d think it’d stop after the first 1 or 2.

There definitely is an opportunity – We just don’t know exactly what it is and exactly how big it is.

Here are some of the things to keep in mind -

  1. Kindle owners are buying the device primarily for reading books. Apps are an add-on.
  2. Kindles use eInk and don’t support color or animation.
  3. You have to test on 4 devices – Kindle 3, Kindle 2, Kindle DX, Kindle DX 2. Kindle WiFi and Kindle 3 are similar enough that you can leave one out. Basically, you’ll be limited by the speed and processing power of the 1st Kindle DX and the Kindle 2 US version.
  4. No one knows any of the numbers involved – We don’t know how many Kindles have been sold and we don’t know how many Kindle Apps have been sold.
  5. It’s a completely separate SDK. It’s based on Java and it’s quite easy to learn – However, it’s still a completely new SDK.

It’d be good to hear some details from Amazon – Revealing sales figures for the successful apps would encourage more developers to jump in.

Pros and Cons of developing apps for the Nook Color

Here are the reasons making apps for Nook Color makes sense -

  1. Nook Color is meant for apps. B&N might say no – However, after playing around with it for a couple of weeks, let me assure you this thing needs apps like England needs the World Cup.
  2. There are estimates that Nook Color might sell 1 million units by end 2010. Sales are definitely good – as are reviews.
  3. At the start it’ll be a less competitive market.
  4. There’s just one device to develop for. This is hugely significant when you consider testing time and cost.
  5. Existing Android Apps can be ported over.

Nook Color is an App-Bereft Tablet and not a Reading Tablet. Additionally, it’s very well suited for apps due to having an IPS LCD touchscreen.

Things to keep in mind -

  1. There might just be 1 or 2 million Nooks at the time the store opens.
  2. At least 25% of users are going to root their Nook and get Android Apps for free. They are ruled out as customers.
  3. B&N wants to limit apps to reading related apps.
  4. There might be very strong Android tablet competitors arriving in 2011 which might slow down Nook Color sales.
  5. B&N is selling this as a reading tablet so 25% or so of the audience might not be interested in apps. That’s another 25% of customers lost on top of the 25% that root it.

Basically you’re looking at only 50% of Nook Color owners being potential customers for your apps. If Nook Color sells at a good pace it won’t matter – However, if sales are slow then the market is just too small.

The biggest challenge for B&N is that users are needed for developers to get interested but apps are needed for users to get interested in Nook Color. How are they going to get over this chicken and egg problem?

The Crux

Kindles are a huge market (relatively) but with the limitations of eInk and with users that might not be interested in apps. Nook Color, at the moment, is a small market but with users that will probably be interested in apps (at least 50% ought to be) and a device that has a LCD color touchscreen.

It’s a trade-off. It might not be a bad idea to make 1 or 2 apps for each and then pick the market that’s more fun to work in.

My Recommendation: If you’re an Android developer – make Nook Apps. If not, then start with Kindle App Store and then later try Nook App Store. Read all the terms carefully – There are things like bandwidth costs and a focus on reading related apps which you MUST keep in mind. Both stores are very clear about what kinds of apps they want and the market is, in both cases, full of people who are reading-oriented.

Kindle vs Nook Color – Which will get better Apps?

This might seem like a trick question. Isn’t the Nook Color going to get far better apps – It has color and a touchscreen.

However, the motivations for developers are varied -

  1. The market opportunity.
  2. How well they get treated.
  3. The challenge.
  4. The freedom they’re given.
  5. How good the Development Kit is and how easy it makes things.
  6. What the review process is like.
  7. What the users are like.
  8. A match between developers and users’ interests.
  9. The ethos and values of the App Store and the App Store company.
  10. How much fun it is. This is probably the key determinant.

So a developer is factoring in all these aspects and picking one or both app stores. And all along the way he’s fighting reality i.e. money, rules and regulations, deadlines, the need to eat food, etc.

Reasons Kindle might get better apps

There are actually a lot of reasons why Kindle might get the better apps -

  1. There’s probably going to be more money in Kindle Apps for at least the first 1 year.
  2. Kindle Apps have a head-start. The number of apps out might be small but developers have been working on apps since January and some partners like Electronic Arts from before January.
  3. Kindle users are buying apps.
  4. Kindle users don’t have a fall-back like Nook Color users do (the latter can root their Nook and use Android Apps).
  5. Amazon seems to have a good quality bar – None of the apps released so far have been terrible.
  6. There’s a pretty big challenge – Any developer who can make a good app on eInk is going to get a lot more satisfaction than on LCD. The challenge also forces developers to be a bit more creative.
  7. Developers are very invested. By making it a limited Beta, and making developers wait to get in, Amazon’s made it a bit of a prize to be developing Kindle apps. 

The biggest two things working in the Kindle’s favor are definitely the possibility of more money and the head start the Kindle App Store has.

Reasons Nook Color might get better apps

The first problem here is that there might not be that many developers willing to work on Nook apps. That’s B&N’s biggest challenge.

That being said there are still a lot of reasons Nook Color might have the better apps by end 2011 -

  1. There’s just one device. As a developer can’t explain to you how significant this is.
  2. You have color and animation and video and a pretty powerful processor and a decent amount of memory. Nook Color is good, solid hardware to work with. 
  3. B&N is not doing a limited beta. The benefits of a limited Beta are that developers who get in, especially those who wait and then get in, are very invested. The downside is that you can’t predict the winners so you might be keeping out hundreds of rock star apps.
  4. Android apps can be ported over easily. There’s a big, huge supply of apps available. All the Nook Color needs is one big hit and then hundreds of companies will start porting over their apps.
  5. Nook SDK is based on Android. There are a ton of developers who are very familiar with Android, and more importantly, love it.  
  6. Nook Color only has WiFi. This means developers never have to worry about wireless charges like they have to with the Kindle.
  7. B&N is fighting for its life. It’s going to give developers more leeway and it’s going to take bigger risks and that increases the chances of both great apps and great failures. 

Android Apps are the biggest potential wildcard – If one developer makes $500,000 in the Nook Color app store there will suddenly be 10,000 Android Apps being ported over.

The second huge wildcard for Nook Apps is that everyone gets a shot – Developers that no company in their right mind would pick for a ‘limited beta’ might be the one to make the ‘Angry Birds’ of the Nook App Store. Plus you need really bad apps to better highlight the really good apps.

My prediction – The first big hit on Nook Color will open the floodgates

There are tens of thousands of Android App Developers waiting to see how apps for the Nook Color do. The first big hit and they jump in. At that point two things happen -

  1. Nook Color pretty much bows out of the Reading Tablet category. The Apps will take over.
  2. Kindle App Store gets left behind but Amazon’s position in the eReader market grows stronger.

Kindle is not under threat from Nook App Store at the moment. The real threat will be if the Nook App Store takes off and then B&N opens it up to Nook 1 and releases a Nook 2 that works well with Apps.

My prediction: Kindle App Store will have better apps until 5 to 6 months after the first Nook App makes more than $250,000 in profit. After that the Nook App Store will become huge and hugely powerful. The Kindle will actually see a relative increase in sales as apps dilute Nook Color as a reading Tablet but eventually the upsurge in Nook Color Apps will trickle down to Nook 2 and Nook 1 and cause huge problems for Amazon.

‘Only’ 12% of developers ‘very interested’ in Kindle development

A survey by Appcelerator, a company that provides hosting and services for app developers, shows that only 12% of the developers surveyed showed high interest in developing apps for the Kindle.

At some level this should not be a surprise – there aren’t that many people interested in reading, only 3 to 5 million of them have eReaders, and there are lots of other platforms that are competing. It is, however, worth investigating the reasons the Kindle app platform appeals or does not appeal to developers.

Factors that combine to make the Kindle App Store less appealing

The low interest in the Kindle is perhaps due to its focus on reading, the strength of competing platforms, and limitations of the Kindle and of the Kindle App Store.

Strong Competing Platforms

Appcelerator talk about three tiers of App Platforms -

Leaders (iPhone, Android, and iPad).

Up & comers (Blackberry and Windows Phone).

Laggards (Symbian, Palm, Meego, and Kindle).

If you look at these tiers you can clearly see that the iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, and Blackberry platforms have the advantage of each having tens of millions of units in circulation. The iPad has all the buzz and the expectation that sales might reach tens of millions of units. It’s also very easy for developers to shift from iPhone to iPad development.

At some level it’s impressive to have the Kindle on the list (given that eReaders are just starting off).

Kindle isn’t designed for Apps + Restrictions of the Technology

It’s pretty clear that the Kindle is designed for reading – the eInk, the simple design, and the long battery life. That means it’s not a blank canvas ideally suited to apps like the iPhone is. In fact the only apps it seems suited to are those related to reading.  

There are also several restrictions, including some important ones -

  1. eInk takes a lot of time to refresh. 
  2. Animation and Video are ruled out.
  3. It’s in black and white. 
  4. There’s no touchscreen. 

The lack of support for animation rules out most games – That’s pretty significant considering the biggest selling category of apps in the iPhone App Store are games.

Restrictions of the App Store

The App Store comes with its own set of restrictions that add on to the physical limitations -

  1. No advertising. A good thing in my opinion – However, it rules out all the developers who build advertising fuelled apps.
  2. No generic readers.
  3. Bandwidth limit of 100 KB a month for users. It rules out apps like weather apps.
  4. Apps using more than 100 KB a month have to be subscription apps.

When you combine the limitations due to eInk and the limitations the App Store imposes you rule out a lot of apps (and some ways of monetizing apps).

The decision to keep out advertising is probably a very good one – However, there are lots of developers obsessed with advertising and they’ll definitely stay away.

Developers have to pay for bandwidth 

This is a pretty important restriction.

The first thing the 15 cents per MB download cost does is rule out (or make rather difficult) certain bandwidth intensive apps -

  1. Browsers. 
  2. Email Apps. 
  3. Photo and Document sharing.
  4. Social Networking Apps.
  5. Instant Messaging Apps.

The second thing it does is reduce the profit that could be made from other apps i.e.

  1. Twitter Apps. 
  2. Weather Apps.
  3. Stock Quote Apps. 

The bandwidth restriction will rule out a lot of good apps, especially email and communication apps.

There’s lots of uncertainty

Here are some of the things that are unknown -

  1. When the Kindle App Store will open. 
  2. How many people will buy apps.
  3. What types of apps they will buy.
  4. What priced apps will work.
  5. How many people will be offering free apps and which apps.
  6. How much competition there will be. 

It’s hard to plan when there are so many unknowns.

Not enough of a User Base

If we assume the number of Kindles in circulation is between 2 million and 5 million there might not be enough potential buyers for certain apps.

If you have 40 million smartphones using a platform then even an app that appeals to just 5% of users has 2 million potential buyers.

With the Kindle an app that appeals to just 5% of Kindle owners might have just 200,000 potential buyers. Throw in a few competitors and things get pretty sketchy.

With time this disadvantage ought to reduce – provided Kindles keep selling. At this point of time it’s a big concern.

The fact that it’s an eReader – Not knowing how interested people would be in Apps and Games

People are buying the Kindle to read books. No one knows if people will be interested in games and apps that are not related to reading.

What if only 20% of Kindle Owners actually buy apps that are not related to reading?

Then we’re talking about a potential audience size of hundreds of thousands of users – probably not enough to sustain many apps.

Books aren’t allowed

The apps that would make the most sense are books and reading apps – However, generic readers aren’t allowed which rules out books. It’s worth noting that one of the biggest categories in the iPhone App Store are Book Apps – all of those are automatically ruled out.

If Book Apps aren’t allowed on an eReader then the most natural fit is excluded.

Factors that make the Kindle an interesting platform

The list of factors in the previous section is pretty overwhelming – However, it has some big advantages which explains why 12% of developers are ‘very interested’ in developing Kindle Apps.

Kindles (and eReaders) are exploding

The number of Kindles and eReaders being sold is increasing rapidly (at least it has so far) and it’s not inconceivable that in a few years we have tens of millions of Kindles in circulation.

It’s a new market

There are lots of positives here -

  1. Users don’t have any apps at the moment.
  2. There will be much less competition than in established app markets. 
  3. There is no precedent in terms of what users expect. 
  4. If you do well and get a foothold then as the market grows your profits grow too.
  5. It’s easier to get visibility – You can experiment and try out a lot of different ideas without getting drowned out by 150,000 other apps.

There’s lots of opportunity and lots of freedom.

Users of Good Intent

We’re talking about people who pay $259 or more for their devices and $10 for books.

These are people who are likely to gladly pay money for apps that provide value. They won’t expect free apps supported by advertising (since there is no advertising). They won’t be expecting all apps to be $1. They also won’t be trying to steal apps and perhaps best of all there is no precedent of free.

Reading related Apps ought to do well

While there might not be tens of millions of owners there are a few million users and they share a few important qualities -

  1. They love to read.
  2. They are willing to pay for books.
  3. They have a lot of reading and books related needs.

Apps that could potentially be bestsellers are –  

  1. Apps that provide Reading Shelves.
  2. Review Apps.
  3. Recommendation Apps.
  4. Translation Apps.
  5. Thesaurus and Dictionary Apps. 

Any app related to reading will likely appeal to most Kindle owners.

It’s a challenge

Let’s be quite frank – It’s quite an exciting challenge to work against strong hardware and software limitations and still create a work of beauty.

It takes a lot of optimization – making the code work around eInk refreshes, making it work around the bandwidth limitations. It encourages simplicity and optimization and it’s going to result in developers creating some beautifully crafted apps.

Developers get paid

By excluding advertising, making the system closed, and excluding user information gathering the Kindle App Store keeps out some apps -

  1. Apps from people who believe in free and open (most of them). 
  2. Apps that use advertising to monetize and spoil the market for paid apps. 
  3. Apps that sell user information.

A lot of the people who were using free apps as a lure to get other things out of users are kept out as are the free/open believers. That means developers who create good apps can earn money for their apps and not get undercut. 

Development is easy (relatively)

The development is in Java. There’s a Kindle Simulator for PC, Mac, and Linux. There’s no charge for signing up.

The Beta is pretty straightforward and there’s good documentation and it’s relatively straightforward to develop apps.

There are just two devices to test on

Since there are just two product lines the Kindle App Store targets i.e. Kindle DX and Kindle, it’s relatively straightforward to test out apps.

Of course, it gets a little complicated if you think of it as US and International versions. Perhaps it’s safe to assume that the only changes are related to what wireless service is  used and testing for the International Kindle version takes care of the US version.

Another related benefit is that Amazon updates Kindle OS builds automatically which means nearly all devices are on the same build and there are just two configurations to test against at any given time.

12% developers being ‘very interested’ is a good sign

The Appcelerator article paints 12% as a very low number and lists the iPad’s 53% in comparison. However, we’re talking about a dedicated eReader with an eInk screen and an app store that isn’t even open yet.

With the iPad you have the success of the iPhone motivating developers and with Android you have all the openness and other things developers love (things that actually make it harder for them to make money). iPhone’s app platform and the other mobile phone app platforms have tens of millions of users and a lot going for them.

The Kindle App Store being just a little behind Palm and Symbian (16%, 14%) is really impressive given the Kindle is just starting off and that users will probably be focused on reading.

Within a few months we should see the Kindle App Store debut and we’ll gather a lot more about users’ intentions and what sorts of Apps they prefer. It’s certainly going to be interesting to find out what developers come up with, which apps users choose, and how much they pay for them.

Which eReader software for the iPad is going to win?

Tomorrow we see the beginning of preorders for the iPad and since it has been anointed ‘the device that shall kill eReaders and take over ebooks’ it’s worth wondering which ereading app on the iPad will come out on top.

iBooks – the power of the default and Apple’s aesthetic brilliance

The automatic front-runner is Apple’s iBooks App. Let’s count its advantages -

iBooks is the default ebooks app

Apple is going out of its way to avoid Microsoft’s browser bundling issue but that doesn’t change the fact that iBooks is the default reading app. It’s going to be in all the advertising and on the webpage and it’s going to get excellent Apple approved design. 

Add on that it’ll probably be a featured app in the iPad App Store and that iPad owners will gravitate towards an official Apple App and you have iBooks all set to take over the mantle of the #1 iPad ebooks App.

Purchases are really easy with the built-in iBookstore

In addition to all the advantages above we have the advantage that iBooks will feature in-app purchases.

Every other ebooks app will have to use Safari for purchases which makes things less convenient (as compared to buying ebooks from within the app itself). They have to do this because they don’t want to pay 30% to Apple. It’s quite a conundrum – Choose the less elegant way for users to buy books and lose out on sales and user experience or pay Apple 30%.

iBooks will match or come close to Kindle on prices

Thanks to the agency model that Publishers have manged to impose on Amazon (by using the iPad as leverage), and the fact that Apple’s own agreements allow it to discount bestsellers, we might have a competitor to the Kindle that actually matches Amazon’s ebook prices.

Even if Amazon manages to reduce prices Apple won’t be far off.

No matter how you dissect them iBooks’ chances of being the #1 iPad eBooks App are very high.

Kindle for iPad – Amazon, a large user base, and Simplicity

It’s amazing that with all its advantages Kindle for iPad is still the underdog. Here are reasons why Amazon’s Kindle for iPad might spring a surprise -

  1. Kindle for iPhone is the #1 eBooks App for the iPhone. A significant number of those users might become iPad owners.
  2. 3 million or so Kindle owners.
  3. There are lots of people who are part of the Kindle eco-system thanks to the various Kindle Apps. 
  4. Amazon still has the best prices.
  5. Amazon, at least for the moment, has the best range of new books.
  6. Amazon is the most trusted company in America (this is from a survey so it might be inaccurate).
  7. There are a ton of loyal Amazon customers.

A focus on reading might give Kindle for iPad a boost

Apple’s iBooks focuses on really pretty bookshelves and animated page turns. You have to wonder whether that will really trump Kindle for iPhone’s simplicity.

Let’s say there’s a contingent of serious readers who buy the iPad to read books on it and read a book a month or more.

What type of reading app would they prefer?

At some point having pretty bookshelves and fancy page turns stops being much of an advantage.

How good will Kindle for iPad be?

The other factor is the range of feature of Kindle for iPad or lack thereof. There’s probably not going to be ePub support, we might not see Blogs and Periodicals, there’s not going to be Text to Speech, and there aren’t going to be many bells and whistles. It’s almost as if Amazon want to make their apps for other platforms good and also ensure they’re not so good that the Kindle becomes an afterthought. They’ll probably do the same with Kindle for iPad.

If the Kindle for iPad goes the route of Kindle for iPhone and is a minimum set of features for reading and simplistic design it’s going to make things interesting.

Stanza – The Best Features

Stanza is in the unique position of having the best features and yet being in the shadow of giants. There’s also the wildcard of it being owned by Amazon. Basically, Stanza became the #1 eReader App on the iPhone and then Amazon bought it. It’s still functioning as an independent eReader app (a very good decision by Amazon).

Stanza’s unique position brings up questions -

Will Stanza be able to replicate their early success on the iPhone and come in first? Will another small company create the #1 ebook reading app for the iPad? Will Amazon buy that company too?

Perhaps. Perhaps. Yes.

Stanza could really go overboard on the iPad

On the iPhone Stanza basically took the bar and blasted it into a million tiny bits – 20 themes, 24 fonts, custom backgrounds, 20 different layout settings, custom gestures, and Folders. It also let you download from a dozen or so ebook sites.

With the iPad the Stanza developers get a much bigger, much more capable canvas. What are they going to dream up?

Stanza is the anti-Kindle – It’s great for tech savvy people and people who want lots of options.It actually complements Kindle for iPhone really well. We’ll probably see Stanza continue to drown us with options and coolness.

iPad Nook – Building on Top of eReader

There’s more to Nook for iPad than the rather unfortunate juxtaposition of two carelessly chosen names. B&N did a lot of things right with Nook and if it weren’t for the fact that it was released a few months too early it might have done a lot of damage.

Will B&N create a fresh Nook for iPad or repurpose B&N eReader?

Update: B&N have confirmed on their blog that they are going to release B&N eReader for iPad.

The really intelligent strategy would be to copy Amazon and release two eReader Apps with different philosophies. The danger is that B&N have a tough time fixing bugs with one product – they may never recover from the experience of releasing two eReader apps at the same time.

The most probable release is going to be a rehashed version of eReader. Which isn’t a bad thing at all -

  1. We get a lot of options but not too many.
  2. We get AutoScroll which would go perfectly with the iPad’s huge screen.
  3. We get categories (folders) and good annotations capabilities.
  4. eReader is arguably the prettiest reading App (unless you’re a minimalist in which case Kindle for iPhone probably wins) and the iPad would probably bring that out even more.
  5. You can create your own themes and lots of other options.

eReader for iPad is a scary competitor – the dark horse as the iPad’s screen and design might go best with B&N eReader and B&N have begun to do a good job of gradually matching more and more Kindle prices.

Kobo for iPad – It’s hard getting noticed

Kobo have made a lot of noise with their united nations of retailing and their powerful backers. They even have a Kobo eReader lined up for release this summer. However, they might not have much of a chance in an overcrowded ebook app market.

When we reviewed reading apps on the iPhone the negatives that really killed KoboBooks’ Shortcovers App were -

  1. Bad prices. 
  2. The requirement to be logged in to bookmark pages.
  3. The fact that books are downloaded in sections which tends to be rather annoying when you’re immersed in a novel.
  4. Some sketchy design decisions.

In fact Shortcovers had the lowest score of the 7 reading apps reviewed and it’d be a bit of a miracle if the Kobo for iPad app manages to hit a top 3 spot.

Is it going to matter what App wins the #1 Spot?

That’s an extremely difficult and twisted question.

  1. If the iPad doesn’t do well it doesn’t matter.
  2. If no one reads on the iPad then it doesn’t matter – regardless of how many iPads are sold.
  3. If the iPad gets a decent number of readers and becomes a somewhat important channel for reading and ebooks then there’s some value to being a top 2 reading app.
  4. If the iPad does extremely well among people who read then that would spell the end of dedicated eReaders and Amazon and B&N would be reduced to fighting for ebook revenue. In that scenario it’s crucial to be a top 2 app and Amazon has a good chance with both Kindle for iPad and Stanza.

We need for the iPad to do well (or at least decently) and for a lot (or at least a decent number) of people to actually read books on it. If both of these occur then the iPad will be important for reading and the top 2-3 reading apps for the iPad will have a lot of power and possibly be very profitable.

Are we going to see Stanza Part 2?

Let’s say the iPad does become an important channel for reading.

We would have tens of thousands of developers developing apps and somewhere between a dozen and a hundred would be focused on a reading app. If one or two of them can get a top 5 spot they can choose between making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on ebook sales or selling their company for millions. That ought to be enough motivation to see some exceptional reading apps.

No matter who wins Apple shares in the rewards – at the minimum they sell more iPads to people who love/like to read. That’s the big benefit of owning a platform – You always win.

eReaders and confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is basically our tendency to interpret facts in a way that just reinforces what we already believe.

  1. We tend to ignore facts that goes against out beliefs.
  2. We also actively search for and pick facts that supports our beliefs.
  3. Finally, we interpret data in a biased way.

Understanding Confirmation Bias

Before we jump into why Confirmation Bias is important when it comes to eReaders, let’s cover a few quotes about confirmation bias.

Sir Francis Bacon (courtesy R. S. Nickerson’s paper on Confirmation Bias) -

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion (either as being the received opinion or as being agreeable to itself) draws all things else to support and agree with it.

And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects;

Doug’s Darkworld has a good write-up with some figures to explain Confirmation Bias -

People have a powerful tendency to both notice things that fit their preconceived views and not notice things that might contradict them.

And, frankly, it’s been my observation that most people are so inclined to reinforce their beliefs this way that it’s a waste of time to debate them.

From R. S. Nickerson’s Paper -

 Confirmation bias, as the term is typically used in the psychological literature, connotes the seeking or interpreting of evidence in ways that are partial to existing beliefs, expectations, or a hypothesis in hand.

Confirmation Bias and Kindle vs iPad

Looking at people’s thoughts on Kindle vs iPad reveals a lot of interesting beliefs -

  1. A lot of people who love Apple think the iPad is the best device ever invented.
  2. People who dislike Apple products thinks its overhyped and a total failure.
  3. People who don’t see a use for the iPad in their own lives are assuming it’s already a failure. 
  4. eReader owners who love their eReaders think it’ll be terrible for reading.  
  5. People who dislike eReaders are interpreting it to mean eReaders will die. 

All these are strong convictions – even though most of these people haven’t used an iPad (including me) and no one has actually used it for reading or for anything else.

Perhaps the ultimate example of iPad related confirmation bias -

  • Interactive Bureau of Advertising’s head Randall Rothenberg who thinks the iPad is a threat to online ads. Why? Because it doesn’t support Flash and most online display ad campaigns are in Flash.

If you think about it – It seems pretty ridiculous that someone would jump from a lack of support for Flash on a Tablet to a threat for online ads.

However, each one of us makes the same mistake – We take things and re-interpret them in ways that make sense in our world and agree with our core beliefs.

eReaders and Confirmation Bias

We are all constantly interpreting reality – twisting it in ways that make sense to us and make us happy.

That’s why we have –  

  1. People who think nothing could be as good as books.  
  2. eReader owners who love eInk. 
  3. Kindle owners who don’t get the Sony and Sony owners who don’t get the Kindle.
  4. iPhone owners who don’t understand why anyone would buy a Kindle.  
  5. People who think the iPad is a Kindle killer without using either.

Which leads us to the whole point of this post.

How can we avoid confirmation bias and make a fair call on eReaders?

This might be an intractable problem.

  1. Initially you’d think you could remove confirmation bias by trying every reading device (and of course good old books).
  2. Then you realize you can’t just try it – You have to live with it. So you spend 4-6 weeks with each.
  3. At that point you think you have the problem solved. However, different users have different needs.
  4. So you would have to spend 4-6 weeks in a particular customer’s mindset with each device.

By the time you finish the last part eReaders have evolved 2 generations and changed completely.

The best solution is to design an eReader for a particular segment 

When you think about it -

  1. The Kindle is perfect for star Amazon customers i.e. people who read a lot and absolutely love books.  
  2. The iPad is probably perfect for star Apple Customers.  

Both companies are designing devices that are perfect for their targeted customer base.

The obvious limitation is that you have to design a device per market segment. Which brings us to the next best solution.

The second best solution is to design a malleable platform and device and let it be molded to fit different segments

This is exactly what the App Store is. Hopefully, it’s what the Kindle App Store becomes too.

  1. Take a device that’s fundamentally a good device.
  2. Create a development kit that lets developers mold the device into any number of uses.
  3. Let them target different customer segments.

The bonus is that underlying it all is your device and your platform.

The strength of this strategy is that you cater very well to -

  1. People who want multiple functionality in your device. 
  2. People who would never get a quality device for their particular need at a price they’d like.

The weakness is that your device is not as specialized as it could be. It’s cursed to be a good fit and never a perfect fit.

eReaders App Stores are the best way to harness Confirmation Bias

Let’s consider a very different, positive view of Confirmation Bias -

  1. Each segment of customers sees the world in a particular way.
  2. They want a device that fits in perfectly.
  3. Ideally they get a device completely dedicated to them and their needs.
  4. Next best, they get a device that can be molded (easily) to fit their needs.

Confirmation Bias is a good thing because only things that are part of a customer’s world matter. Even amongst those things – the relative importance varies.

If John loves books and reading makes him happy then he ought to have confirmation bias.

  • Devices that are for reading, books, the smell of books – all of these things should seem inordinately important to John. 
  • A device that tries to sacrifice reading for something less important deserves his wrath.  

With an App Store each user can get his/her fill of Confirmation Bias

eReaders have a lot of the ingredients readers want -

  1. Great readable screen.
  2. Amazing Battery Life.
  3. Relatively low prices. 
  4. $9.99 books and an ever increasing range.

However, beyond that they fail to provide what customers want.

An App Store lets developers mold eReaders to match customers’ expectations.

  1. A customer can pick the apps that have the most impact on her/his eReader experience. 
  2. The more suited the eReader becomes the more Confirmation Bias supports the eReader’s importance to the user. 

Soon we’re at the point where no other device could steal those users because no other device confirms as well to the user’s needs and beliefs.

The more eReaders cater to user needs the more successful they’ll be

There was a comment that the worst thing Kindle could do would be to try to become a multi-purpose device – that’s amazingly valid.

The Kindle App Store should let users make their Kindles more and more specialized to their reading needs.

The Kindle should literally be able to transform into each of these -

  1. Sheet Music Reader. 
  2. Recipe Manual.  
  3. Doctor’s Report.  
  4. Book Reader.
  5. Newspaper Reader.

These and 10,000 other reading related functions.

Each eReader owner that is writing about how much they love eInk and scoffing at the rumored demise of eReaders is further incentive for Amazon and Sony. 

  1. To stick with dedicated eReaders. 
  2. To improve and evolve their eReaders 
  3. To leverage eReader App Stores to make eReaders even more valuable for readers.

Let’s hope eReaders stay focused on reading and eReader App Stores are given a lot of flexibility and freedom.

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