Amazon adds search to Kindle for iPhone, promises search for Kindle for iPad

Amazon has released Version 2.1 of its Kindle App – It’s a shared app that functions as both Kindle for iPhone and Kindle for iPad.

Kindle for iPhone gets Search

The big additions are -

  1. Search function for Kindle for iPhone that lets you search inside a book. 
  2. Addition of bigger fonts and more font sizes for Kindle for iPad.

There are also a couple small changes -

  1. Quicker navigation between home and archived items on iPad.  
  2. Display of download progress – including percentage completed.

Finally, Amazon promises that some new additions are ‘coming soon’ -

  • The ability to search within books on Kindle for iPad
  • The ability to instantly look up any word using the included Dictionary. They say that the dictionary has 250,000 entries and definitions. 
  • Ability to search for words on Wikipedia and to do Google searches using the word.

How is the search feature? Other features?

There’s now a magnifying glass image at the top right and clicking that brings up a separate page. On this page you can enter a word or phrase – It disregards small words like ‘we’ and won’t search for them. Enter a longer word like ‘here’ and you get a list of results showing a snippet of words including the word/phrase you searched for (though it isn’t highlighted). The list uses Location as the titles for the various search results.

The downloading bar is pretty good as it shows both a progress bar and a percentage – although download speeds are usually so fast you have to wonder why it was added.

The addition of larger fonts for the iPad is a much-needed change – the largest size on Kindle for iPad wasn’t big enough. It’s also nice to have more font size options (6 instead of 5). The change of ‘quicker and easier navigation between Home and Archive’ is a rather small usability change (although a good one).

It’s pretty interesting that iBooks added some new features, including the ability to search books and view PDFs, a few days ago and Amazon almost instantly responded. It’s almost as if Amazon want to make Kindle for iPad/iPhone the best reading option on the iPad/iPhone but not as good as the Kindle.

Checking up on how Kindle is doing on iPad and iPhone

Things are actually looking pretty good for Amazon -

  1. Kindle for iPhone is the #1 Book App.
  2. Kindle for iPad has climbed up all the way to #10 Free App (it was around #23 at launch).

All Amazon had to do was create two good, simple Kindle apps (actually one App that works on both iPhone and iPad) and they get all these customers for free.

Kindle for iPad gets skewered on reviews

You’d think an App doing so well (it’s the #10 iPad App (in the Free section) and the #1 iPhone Book App) would be very well liked. Well, opinions are divided. For the latest release there are 4,024 5 star ratings and 3,620 1 star ratings. And around 1,500 each of 2, 3, and 4 star ratings.

Note that there is one App that works for both iPad and iPhone - the reviews and the ratings are from both iPad owners and iPhone/iPod Touch owners.

The 1 star reviews are enlightening -

No way you beating iPad, Kindle!!!

I hate it. It’s a good app but you have to buy books for it. It doesn’t give you books – u buy them!!!

Why does it need ur credit card number for a free book that’s just stupid.

No search feature. Sold me a black & white photocopy-PDF of a book.

Need the dictionary feature for this to be in the same league as the iBooks app…

Lacks the Apple “touch”. Does not carry the typical Apple look and feel or quality.

This app style is kind of flat. They can make more realistic features like iBook.

Please Kindle make the books nicer visually – sharper text, more fonts, better animation.

The 5 star reviews are of the usual ‘really good app, lots of books’ variety.

iBooks getting a lot of love

iBooks gets 2,068 5 star ratings, 489 4 star ratings and around 300 each of 3, 2, and 1 star ratings.

There are a ton of reviews. Here are the last 10 or so reviews (May 11th and 12th) -

This is an amazing book app. Although the digital paid books are pricey, the free books are sometimes good.

Very disappointed in the selection of books.

Unquestionably better than the Kindle (he’s talking about Kindle for iPad). And people can complain about $14 books but they’re still less than newly-released hardcovers. Would like to see more titles eventually.

The store is organized poorly and does not offer many titles.

I’d really like a night-time mode. Otherwise I’m quite impressed.

Lower the book prices and I will buy them.

High Prices. Few books.

I’m speechless what an amazing app

iBooks needs sci-fi books like spider man, iron man, x-men, star wars, etc.

It is much more enjoyable to use than Kindle for iPad.

Much better than Kindle. Has bookmark and search but less books.

Geniusly invented.

A few quick thoughts -

  1. There are actually a non-trivial number of people who talk about reading more after getting the iPad.
  2. People are very, very forgiving of the lack of range and prices. They mention it and then give the app 4 stars or 5 stars.
  3. Looks and ‘enjoying’ the app come up again and again in 5 star reviews.
  4. There are a significant number of people who are upset about high ebook prices.
  5. A lot of people mention missing features (and still rate it 5 stars) – notetaking, better organized store, cheaper prices, better selection, back button.

There’s definitely some sort of Apple aura where people love it despite its flaws.

Consider this review (courtesy Michael Parker) titled ‘Best Way to Read’ -

Kindle for iPad is pretty terrible …

… However, I rated it (iBooks) 4 stars, and here’s why -

1. Right now, the selection is pretty limited. I’ve had a hard time tracking down a lot of books that I’d enjoy reading through iBooks, that are already available on Kindle.

2. The price on some of these books is just ridiculous.

Let’s get this straight – iBooks gets 4 stars even though the selection is pretty limited and the price of some of the books is ridiculous. At the same time Kindle for iPad is pretty terrible.

There are a surprisingly large number of reviews like this. You won’t believe the number of people who love the animated page turns – Apple definitely knows its target audience’s preferences.  

Should Amazon start tailoring Kindle for iPad to Apple iPad owners?

It’s hard to figure out how to approach iPad owners.

iBooks is getting 5 stars even from people who think there are very few books available. It’s getting 5 stars from people whose ‘absolute favorite’ feature is the animated page turn. This definitely isn’t the kindle demographic.

It almost seems like Amazon should have two modes for its app -

  1. Reading Mode – For Kindle owners and for serious readers. 
  2. Apple-centric mode – Where the importance of being aesthetically immaculate means actual reading and actual books are mostly ignored.

Seriously though - Amazon should stick to its guns. Amazon isn’t going to beat Apple on animated page turns and for all we know these might be people who would ALWAYS prefer the official Apple app. Today its animated page turns – tomorrow it would be animations in the book.

The real reason a lot of iPad owners would always prefer iBooks is that they’re wedded to Apple. That’s why they’re downplaying things like book availability and book prices. They’d never ever admit that any other company could create something better than an Apple offering.

It’s all good though.

Basically, Amazon is playing with House Money

Amazon is getting a lot of new customers for free. Jumping from #23 to #10 in a month is good.

iPad owners might ooh and aah over the animated page turns but they usually have to come over to Kindle for iPad to actually be able to read the books they want to read.

Amazon’s customer acquisition costs are limited to coding and maintaining the Kindle for iPad App. They get tons of free publicity by being in the Top 10 Free Apps and they get to reach a lot of people they wouldn’t reach otherwise. Kindle for iPad is a success in more ways than one.

Without Kindle, Kobo Apps the iPad wouldn’t be good for reading

Am in the middle of reading books on the iPad and the Kindle DX to write a review/comparison and it struck me that the iBooks app is completely unsuited to reading.

In fact iBooks almost seems to be built to discourage reading. Luckily there’s a happy ending.

Let’s start with the bad part.

Why iBooks is rather unsuitable for people who actually read

Looks Good Versus Actually Useful for Reading

Let’s categorize every eReader quality we can into one of two categories – Actually essential for reading, Looks good.

Here are some of the qualities that are essential for reading -

  1. Wide range of books.
  2. Clear, readable type.
  3. Night Mode (white text on black) for reading in the dark.
  4. Notetaking and highlights.
  5. Making the store easy to search and well-organized.

Here are some of the qualities that look very good -

  1. Color. 
  2. Fancy Page Turns.
  3. Fonts optimized to look good rather than read well.
  4. Putting Books on Virtual Wooden Book Shelves.

The iBooks app is a combination of nearly all the ‘Looks Good’ features and a handful of actually useful features.

Basically, Apple have built a reading app primarily concerned with creating the best-looking reading experience. It’s not really focused on creating the best overall reading experience.

There’s nothing wrong with it – it’s in Apple’s DNA to make design and appearance a competitive advantage and sell their products on that. However, in this case they’ve overdone it and forgotten that the core functionality is far more important than aesthetics.

Kindle for iPad and Kobo for iPad make the iPad usable as a reading device

Luckily for Apple the promise that the iPad will become an important channel means that actual readers get lots of options for reading via iPad reading apps.

While some of the problems with iBooks are unaddressable (eInk is better for reading than LCD, there are far more distractions on the iPad) other iBooks problems are addressed by the various reading apps -

  1. The 30,000 new books (30,000 out of 60,000 are public domain titles) in iBooks not getting you excited? Well, Kindle for iPad has over 450,000 new books.  
  2. The iBooks app not readable enough for you? With Kindle for iPad and Kobo you get much better formatted, much more readable font settings. You also get a Night Reading mode.
  3. Finding it hard to find books in iBooks due to the low range and awkward search? Well, go to Amazon.com and let user reviews and the recommendation engine guide you – then read on Kindle for iPad.
  4. Don’t want to get stuck with one company? There are apps from Amazon and Kobo and soon from Barnes & Noble and more.
  5. Appalled that iBooks doesn’t let you take notes? Other reading apps do.
  6. Want a format that can be read by dedicated eReaders (iPad books can’t)? Choose Kindle for iPad or go ‘half open’ and choose Kobo with Adobe DRMed ePub.
  7. Want to read PDF documents and books? Get a PDF reading app.

Apple created a really good-looking and really terrible to use app in iBooks and it’s the other reading apps that are saving the day.

This begs the instant question -

Did Amazon make a mistake by releasing Kindle for iPad?

Actually – No.

  1. An ebook sale is an ebook sale. 
  2. iPad could become an important ebook channel and it’s crucial to be a top reading app on it to cash in.
  3. If Amazon didn’t release a very good reading app (Kindle for iPad) then some other company eventually would.
  4. Kobo is pretty good and could potentially become great. B&N eReader for iPad might be very good.
  5. Every Kindle for iPad user is getting locked in to the Kindle eco-system (via book purchases).
  6. It increases the value proposition for Kindle owners.
  7. It adds to the amount of customer information Amazon have. They probably know the reading habits of iPad owners better than anyone except Apple.

Apple is in a good position – Amazon is forced to add Kindle for iPad because the channel and the user information and the sales are too important.

Why were so many reviewers praising iBooks so much?

No idea. Notice the newer reviews and reviews from actual readers – They all talk about Kindle for iPad.

If Kindle for iPad wasn’t available they would pick Kobo for iPad. You can’t really survive on iBooks – when you’re actually reading a book you don’t really care that the page turn is a fancy animation or that your library has imaginary wooden shelves.

Were the people who designed iBooks book readers?

It’s a genuine question. Not being snarky – just asking a simple question.

Take the team that designed the iBooks app. Take Steve Jobs. How much do they read?

Is iBooks what the perfect reading app looks like when it’s designed by people who don’t really read?

My guess is that Steve Jobs still feels the way he did – No one really reads any more. So he had an app created that would mollify Publishers and look very good and do a half-decent job of reading. That way Apple can target the eReader space and sell more iPads.

If iBooks doesn’t really meet the needs of actual readers it’s not an issue – other reading apps will fill in the gaps. Look at the quality of Kindle for iPad and Kobo for iPad and it’s hard to argue with Apple’s strategy.

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