If you harbor a grudge against the Kindle or against eReaders you tend to view the Kindle for iPhone app and Kindle for PC very favorably –
It’s proof Amazon doesn’t think the Kindle could survive.
It’s Amazon hedging its bets.
It’s validation that multi-purpose devices are the future and nothing that specializes in just one task could ever survive.
This post will look at all the possible reasons Amazon might have had to introduce Kindle for iPhone and Kindle for PC (and assign each a probability).
It’s best to stop reading if you’re an eReader hater because there’s a chance this post strips away your security blanket i.e. ‘Kindle for iPhone means eReaders are bound to fail’.
What could Kindle for iPhone be for?
Here are the obvious candidates –
Kindle for iPhone might be about tapping a huge channel of good intent – People who don’t mind paying for stuff. Probability: Medium.
An add-on for existing Kindle Owners – to make the Kindle more compelling. Probability: Low to Medium.
A means to cater to casual readers – people who read less than 1 book a month. Probability: High.
A Funnel – To get users onto the Kindle platform and increase the probability they become Kindle owners. Probability: High.
A Hook – Buy a few Kindle Books and suddenly you are locked in. It doesn’t matter if you buy Kindle books on the iPhone – you’re still locked in and when you move to an eReader it’ll be a Kindle. Probability: Medium.
A Hedge. Proof that Amazon doesn’t believe in the Kindle. Probability: Low to Medium.
A means to cater to eReader-phobic readers. They still want the convenience – they just don’t want the cognitive overload of loving books and at the same time being seduced by the convenience of eReaders. So with a Kindle app on another device they can pretend they are still hardcover toting purists. Probability: Medium.
Marketing – Get people exposed to the Kindle brand. Probability: High.
Kindle Store Business – If Amazon really do consider the Kindle and Kindle Books as separate, independent businesses then this might just be about catering to a market of tens of millions of readers. Probability: Low.
A Countermeasure – to the threat of Stanza and B&N taking over the iPhone channel and using it to fight the Kindle. Probability: High.
What’s my money on? A combination of the above, with the most important being – channel of good intent, a hook, a funnel, an add-on and catering to casual readers.
It’s worth nothing that Kindle for iPhone being a countermeasure is also very likely – Amazon did buy Stanza and they do want to make sure no company can leverage the iPhone against them (although they can’t guard against Apple itself).
Interpreting Kindle for iPhone as proof that Amazon doesn’t believe in the Kindle is too simple an explanation. There are at least 10 factors (and probably more) to be considered.
Let’s look at Kindle for PC next.
What could Kindle for PC be for?
There will be a little overlap – kindly excuse that as it’s inevitable.
Tapping a huge market – hundreds of millions of PC owners. Probability: High.
Tapping an exploding market i.e. Netbooks. Probability: High.
Funnel for Netbook and PC Owners – Think of Kindle for PC as a way to get netbook owners on to the Kindle platform. Probability: High.
A Hook – Again, it’s about getting people hooked with their Kindle books and then when they upgrade to an eReader it’s the Kindle. Probability: Medium.
Guard against Competition – An obvious enemy is Google Editions and they have a whole OS aimed at Netbooks. Amazon must have at least an app. Probability: Medium.
Hedge against Netbooks – If netbooks start becoming prevalent as mobile reading devices, at least the books being sold will be from Amazon. Probability: Low to Medium.
Guard against B&N and Sony – Both have PC readers (software). Kindle for PC was announced a few days after the Nook announcement increasing the chance that it’s a countermeasure. Probability: High.
Increasing the value for Kindle owners. Probability: Medium.
Increasing the usefulness of Kindle eBooks i.e. read it on your PC and your iPhone. Probability: Low.
A Hedge – In case dedicated eReaders die out. Probability: Low to Medium.
Again we see a plethora of reasons for introducing Kindle for PC.
Amongst the possible motivations competition seems to be the strongest here as B&N had a PC eReader to support the Nook. B&N were promoting it heavily and Amazon had to counter.
What could the motivations behind Kindle for iPhone and Kindle for PC be?
Before we jump into motivations, it’s worth considering the impact that they will have –
Kindle for iPhone and PC strengthen the Kindle – They increase the value proposition of the Kindle, they hook people into the Kindle eco-system, and they funnel users towards buying the Kindle.
Awareness – #1 App in the iTunes Book Apps section is Kindle for iPhone. All the Kindle for PC and Kindle for iPhone users know about the Kindle.
They provide cheap, effective customer acquisition – There’s zero cost customer acquisition. Kindle for iPhone and Kindle for PC gets tons of coverage and word of mouth and some amount of users turn into Kindle owners without Amazon having to pursue them or advertise to them.
They create a relationship – You’re still buying Kindle books. You’re still using a Kindle and Amazon product. You are Amazon customers and Kindle customers.
Kindle for iPhone and PC cater to new markets – casual and anti-eReader readers.
They are a defence – A way to guard against competitors using a channel to take on the Kindle.
A hedge – In the somewhat unlikely case that eReaders die out Amazon still has lots of channels to sell books in.
That’s 7 different positive ways in which Kindle for iPhone and Kindle for PC help Amazon and help increase the market penetration of the Kindle.
It’s highly unlikely that the motivation was solely a hedge against the failure of the Kindle.
It’s extremely unlikely that Kindle for iPhone and PC have huge impact in 7 different areas and Amazon didn’t aim for at least 5 of them.
Kindle haters should be sad, not happy, that Kindle for PC and Kindle for iPhone are becoming popular.
Amazon is creating Kindle for PC and Kindle for iPhone as Starting Points (Add-On Services for Owners)
Amazon is making it a point to make the Kindle the focal point and create Kindle for PC and Kindle for iPhone as starting points from which you can graduate to buying a Kindle.
For Kindle owners, they become valuable add-ons. Think of the features –
The ability to sync your book location across the devices.
The ability to make notes and highlights on the Kindle and the iPhone (and soon on the PC).
Access notes and bookmarks across devices.
Buy books and access your books from all three.
These features combine to create a very compelling overall offering.
How do Kindle for PC and Kindle for iPhone rate as independent products?
By themselves, both Kindle for PC and Kindle for iPhone are starting points – they are good enough for reading. As you begin to read more you’ll probably want a Kindle.
There are going to be people who curse me for writing that a PC or an iPhone can not be as good for reading as a Kindle.
However, ‘good enough’ is not the same as ‘great’.
Reading on the Kindle is 8.5 stars (8.75 stars if you’re generous).
Reading using Kindle for iPhone is 7 stars – Amazon intentionally leave a few features out to not make it too good. There are other apps that hit 7.5 despite the eye-strain and small screen size.
Reading using Kindle for PC is perhaps 7 to 7.5 – haven’t done enough of it to say for sure. Again, you get the feeling Amazon left out some features to ensure it’s a stepping stone to the Kindle and not a substitute.
If you love to read and can afford it, get a Kindle. If $259 is out of your reach, get Kindle for PC or Kindle for iPhone.
Where does that leave us?
Well, lots of people will download and read on one or both of Kindle for PC and Kindle for iPhone.
Some of them, especially the ones who read a lot, will end up deciding to buy a Kindle.
The books they’ve bought already and the use of a Kindle offering ties them to Amazon.
Even people who don’t buy a Kindle will associate ‘Kindle’ with ebooks and reading.
Kindle for PC and Kindle for iPhone are great for Amazon
Amazon is already doing great with eReaders.
If the skeptics are right and eReaders disappear then Amazon still owns the main reading channels and can sell ebooks.
If the skeptics are wrong, then Amazon owns the main channel i.e. eReaders and also owns the other important channels (PCs, netbooks, iPhones).
Barnes and Noble have become a real threat to Amazon (something Sony never was). Kindle for PC is a necessary measure – expect a few more Kindle features and improvements before Christmas.
As far as Kindle Vs Kindle for PC Vs Kindle for iPhone – all of them are simple to use and great products. The range of books in the Kindle Store and the low prices make each a compelling option.
If you read a book a week (or more), the Kindle is worth the $259. If you read just one book a month, get Kindle for PC and Kindle for iPhone and enjoy the Kindle store.
Disclaimer: This is an initial review after reading two books on the iPhone (Monstrumologist and Lair of the White Worm). Both were read on the Kindle for iPhone App. For the other apps my experience is limited to playing around with them and reading portions of books.
The reviews will be accompanied by two scores – a general reading score and a reading score relative to other iPhone Apps. At some later point will add video reviews since am trying to figure out how best to create App Review videos.
Advantages and Disadvantages common toall iPhone Reading Apps
Shared iPhone App Disadvantages
The screen of the iPhone is quite small.
Battery life does not compare with eInk based eReaders.
LCD screens cause a bit of eye strain whereas eInk screens do not.
There are a lot of distractions on the iPhone i.e. games, text messages, and more.
Shared iPhone App Advantages
Touch and basic multi-touch.
Excellent design of the iPhone which does impact the apps themselves.
Most of all, the iPhone is with you all the time and small enough to fit in your pocket.
Review of Stanza for iPhone
Amazon actually bought Lexcycle, the company that makes Stanza, and it was a smart, smart move because Stanza is spectacular.
Stanza’s 3 major strengths seem to be –
A Plethora of Options. Stanza lets you –
Change the eBook Appearance Choose out of 9 Day Themes and 11 Night Themes.
Pick a font type out of 24 fonts.
Set font size using a sliding scale.
Select Background color, Text color and Link color. There are hundreds of options.
Set your own background image and set its opacity.
Change the Layout of the eBook
Choose Alignment, Hyphenation, Margin Sizes, Line Spacing, Paragraph Spacing, and Paragraph Indent.
Customize a Bunch of Controls Lock Rotation of the iPhone.
Disable Sleep Mode.
Change the Page Turn Effect and Duration.
Change what action leads to a page turn.
Assign Actions to various touch gestures.
Good Organization of Books and the Ability to add Folders – Stanza calls them Collections. It has different views of your books i.e. by title, by author, by subject, by latest reads, and of course you can create your own collections. You can even choose from a ton of icons and give each of your Collections a pretty little icon.
There’s a useful online catalog that lets you access multiple sources for ebooks –
Random House Free Library.
The downloading works smoothly for the most part.
There are also a lot of different, well thought out features that combine to make Stanza an excellent reading App –
Tapping on the screen brings up the menu and shows you the chapter you’re in, the page of the chapter you’re in, and percentage of the book you’ve read.
There’s a sliding location bar that lets you jump quickly to anywhere in the eBook.
There are two arrows on either side of the location bar that let you go back if you jump ahead – You can do this multiple times.
The Table of Contents shows the chapter you’re in.
There’s a quick menu with the option to quickly do things like access the Dictionary, change the Font Size, and go to Your Library.
You can turn pages by either tapping the side of the screen or swiping your finger. The actions can be changed on the Settings Page.
A feature called Cover Flow which lets you flip through covers of books. Couldn’t figure out how to start it.
All the options are a bit overwhelming. It really is meant for tech savvy people who like to customize and tinker with their apps.
There is no Auto-Scroll function.
Having all these different sources for ebooks instead of one central store is confusing. Some of the eBook Stores are really slow.
The Search Function is not very good i.e. you have to navigate a few menus to ‘Find Next’.
The positives far outweight the negatives. Stanza sets a very high bar for Reading Apps and it got the highest review score.
Stanza Review Score: 7.5 stars out of 10. Stanza Review Score relative to iPhone Reading Apps: 9 stars out of 10 for tech savvy people, 8 stars for people who are confused by too many options.
Simplicity. In direct contrast to Stanza, Kindle for iPhone provides few settings and options and almost forces you to focus on reading books.
Kindle Store Books – The wide range, the low prices, and the ability to read books you’ve already purchased for your Kindle (if you have one).
WhisperSync – The ability to synchronize your place in a book across all your reading devices (only Kindle, iPhone and iTouch at the moment).
This overlay screen is almost the entirety of the Kindle for iPhone’s settings –
Kindle also has other good features –
The Archive function (to download a book you’ve purchased in the past) is great – it’s easy to circle through your books and super simple to download the ones you want.
The Home Screen is again simple and easy to use and lets you order books by Recent, by Title or by Author.
There are 5 font sizes.
There are 3 Text colors – white, black and sepia. White is actually a ‘Night Mode’.
The Sepia Text Color setting is more of a theme and perhaps the most readable theme/page setting of all the iPhone eReaders.
You can tap or swipe to turn pages.
Portrait and Landscape mode reading.
Getting new books is through Amazon.com’s mobile site in Safari which is well designed.
You can zoom into images (pinch the image).
Kindle for iPhone Weaknesses
Kindle for iPhone’s weaknesses stem from its focus on simplicity (and a few other sources) –
There are relatively few customization options.
There’s no AutoScrolling.
You cannot add notes and highlights.
There’s no Search function.
The Kindle Store is not integrated into the Kindle for iPhone App and you have to go to Safari to get ebooks.
There is no Help Document and instead the app sends you to a help page on amazon.com.
There is no provision for things like Folders.
Kindle for iPhone Overall Review:
Kindle for iPhone brings the Kindle’s super simplistic design philosophy to the iPhone. The lack of search, auto-scrolling and highlighting prevent it from hitting the perfect balance between simplicity and essential functionality.
Kindle for iPhone Review Score: 7 stars out of 10. Kindle for iPhone Review Score relative to iPhone Reading Apps: 7.5 stars out of 10, Higher if you like simplicity and just want to read.
Barnes & Noble eReader Review
B&N eReader’s Strengths
The B&N eReader is built on eReader from eReader.com with minimal differences. It was the right thing to do because we already had a pretty good Reading App and B&N actually manage to improve it a bit.
In terms of design philosophy its closer to Stanza than Kindle – it does manage to not overwhelm you with settings (something Stanza is guilty of).
The top 4 strengths of the B&N eReader are –
AutoScroll feature with a touch control to change the speed, start and stop it.
Great Annotations – includes bookmarks, highlighting and notes. The listing is rather pretty too.
Categories and ability to add your own categories and arrange categories as you wish (Stanza always puts default stanza collections first).
A ton of options for customization –
6 Font Sizes.
8 Themes usable as Day Themes or Night Themes. You can also make Custom Themes yourself.
Change Line Spacing, Margins, Justification.
Choose the Page Turn Gesture.
It also is pretty and very well designed –
There are a lot of other good features –
You can create your own themes. An impressive feature.
There’s an in-built user guide for help with the app.
Great Search function – You can circle through the search results using a little tiny ‘Find Next’ control on the screen.
Ability to highlight a word or phrase and then look it up in the dictionary, on Wikipedia or on Google.
The B&N eReader uses touch very well.
There’s a location slider that lets you slide to any page (yes, it has pages) and then use back and forward arrow buttons to circle through your location jumps.
The Table of Contents lists the page at which every chapter starts.
As a pure application, the B&N eReader almost hits the perfect balance. There is unfortunately one flaw.
B&N eReader’s Weaknesses
The one weakness that spoils the beauty of the eReader app –
Books are ridiculously expensive. Lost Symbol was showing up for $30.
A few other downsides –
Page Numbers change with font size. Which sort of kills the whole concept of pages.
There really aren’t that many negatives – this is just a very well done app (or to be more precise eReader was a very well done app and B&N carried that on).
B&N eReader Review
Barnes & Noble took an almost great app i.e. eReader and turned it into a great app by doing two big things –
Replacing all the confusing ebook stores and download options with one central store.
Adding the option to search Google and search Wikipedia after selecting a text.
They then spoilt this beautiful app with their super expensive ebook prices. It really is a tragedy because its such a well designed product – the eBook store fails it terribly.
B&N eReader Review Score: 7.25 stars out of 10. B&N eReader Review Score relative to iPhone Reading Apps: 8.5 stars out of 10.
This would be the best eReader if the ebooks were reasonably priced.
ShortCovers iPhone App Review
ShortCovers has one really strong feature i.e.
ShortCovers is the only app that has its own Store and also has the Store built into its App. This is enhanced by having excellent Discoverability –
Browse lets you look through the different sections of the Store from the App itself. You can dig into any section or sub-section and see the Popular Books, the Bestsellers, and New Releases.
Discover lets you jump into a bunch of bestseller lists, free books sections, featured titles, bargains and more. You can filter results to see only paid books or only free books. There’s even a Book Covers Mode for the Search Results.
There are also a few other good features –
There are a decent number of settings – Night Reading, Rotation Lock, 8 Colors/Themes to choose from, 5 Font Sizes, 6 Fonts, Linespacing and Justification settings.
There are good sharing features and you can email a book recommendation to friends or tweet what book you’re reading.
There’s a location slider to jump anywhere in the book and back and front buttons to circle between jump locations.
There are book page numbers. However, they change based on Font size and that reduces their benefit.
The design is good and easy to use.
At this point the wheels begin to fall off.
You have to be logged in to ShortCovers to bookmark pages.
You have to choose between scrolling down in the book OR doing page turns – This is an unnecessarily restrictive design decision.
Worst of all, books are downloaded in sections i.e. you literally finish a page or a chapter and press Next Page to find that you have to wait a few seconds for the new section to download. Changing the settings didn’t help.
Either the setting is really hard to find or its a terrible idea i.e. lets download the second book chapter only when the user navigates into it. Waiting 3-4 seconds for the chapter/page to load really kills the flow of reading.
ShortCovers Overall Review
The best discoverability out of all the Reading Apps and the in-built store make for a promising start. However, Shortcovers drop the ball with their strange decision to download books chapter by chapter.
ShortCovers Review Score: 6.5 stars out of 10. Shortcovers Review Score relative to iPhone Reading Apps: 7.25 stars out of 10.
iPhone Reading Apps – The Rest
The 4 Apps reviewed above are the ones getting all the attention. However, there are a number of other reading apps that are worth looking at –
The WattPad apps seems to have only user written books and stories – which makes sense as it’s a site set up to read and share ebooks.
The main features are –
3 Font Types and a sliding scale for Font Sizes.
24 Font Colors and the same 24 colors available for the background.
AutoScroll with a nice slider to change scroll speed.
You can either scroll down or tap to turn pages. A nice combination.
A ton of sharing options – Email, Twitter, Facebook.
You can’t really get publisher published books (or so it seems). If you could the app would get a 7.75 or 8 out of 10 for iPhone reading and a 7 out of 10 for reading in general.
Beam It Down’s iFlow
This seems to be a company creating book apps i.e. an app that is a single book.
It does a very good job and its Book Apps have some interesting features –
Choose one out of 30 Fonts and one out of 25 Font Sizes.
26 choices for Paper Color and 23 choices for Font Color.
There’s an auto-scroll function. You can adjust the scrolling speed using touch buttons OR by tilting the iPhone.
The tilting the iPhone to control the speed of the scrolling is a really, really cool feature.
There’s an in-built manual.
There’s a Night Mode.
If you’re going to create a book app do consider these guys.
Readdle’s Shakespeare App
This is a simple app that does what it’s supposed to i.e. let you read all of Shakespeare’s works. The features –
Turn your iphone upside down for full screen reading (another really cool idea like the tilt scrolling).
It has a very good search function that lets you circle through search results (#2 after B&N eReader’s Search).
21 choices for Font and Background Color.
7 Font Sizes.
Scroll down using a swipe action or by tapping the bottom third of the screen.
The turn upside down short-cut and the search function are both very good design.
State of iPhone Reading
The 7 apps we have reviewed occupy the top spots in the App Store Books Section and they are doing a lot of things very, very well –
ShortCovers has excellent discoverability.
Kindle for iPhone has excellent focus on reading and WhisperSync is really impressive.
Stanza pushes the envelope on letting readerstinker with every aspect of ebook design and typography.
B&N has a wonderfully done AutoScroll feature, very flexible Categories, and great annotations support.
iFlow’s Tilt-Scrolling and Readdle’s Upside Down Full Page Mode shortcut are expanding what we can use accelerometers for.
There are almost certainly other apps amongst the 10,000+ book apps that are using great design ideas and doing innovative things.
The State of Reading on the iPhone is very impressive. It’s not an eInk screen and the screen size is rather small – despite that Apps are getting 7.5 stars out of 10 on my scale.
The Kindle gets 8.5 stars so 7.5 stars is very impressive for a Free App.
If eInk eReaders don’t evolve their technology and their application design fast enough reading Apps on the iPhone and the iReader/iTablet will catch up with them – perhaps as early as mid 2010. Dropping prices isn’t going to be enough to win.
The best option for pure Reading Devices is to use the iPhone as a breeding ground for ideas –
Scour the reading apps.
See what’s working. See what isn’t working but is a great idea.
Incorporate the best of the best into their own design.
A good place to start is what we’ve already seen.
Innovations and Features eInk eReaders should steal from iPhone Apps
Kindle, Sony Reader, and other eInk based eReaders can, and ought to, steal some of the innovative features iPhone reading apps have come up with. These include –
ShortCovers’ approach to Discoverability (to be fair it does have lots of similarities to what Amazon already has).
Using Touch and the Accelerometer in new and innovative ways. We already have a few really good ideas –
Turn Device upside down to go to full screen mode.
Tilt to change the scrolling speed – You could use the Kindle DX accelerometer for this.
Use Touch and Sliding the Touch (the finger that is doing the touching) to change Scrolling Speed.
Double taps to hide and show menus.
B&N’s Categories Feature.
Sliding Font Size Scale. The Sony Reader Touch Edition has a sliding font resizer – however, the resize gets lost if you turn pages.
Sliding Location Bar that lets you quickly jump around.
Day and Night Modes (although this would probably eat up battery life faster).
Giving readers the option to change fonts and font boldness.
Perhaps Themes – the Kindle for iPhone Sepia theme is amazingly good for reading. It might be quite difficult getting themes working with eInk though.