Kindle for iPhone
Mar 04, 2009

Amazon has released a Kindle for iPhone (iTunes store link) app. It's exactly what it sounds like, and my first impression is that it may well be the straw that breaks the camel's back and pushes me to adopt the Kindle.

I woke up this morning to discover that Amazon had released their Kindle for iPhone app. We all knew this was coming, though I don't think anyone (at least, not me) suspected it would come so soon. I have been anxiously awaiting a good eBook solution, and thus far the Kindle has seemed like the best bet, but I haven't yet been totally convinced. Fortunately the Kindle for iPhone app is free, removing the first barrier for entry to buying into Amazon's system. On top of that they allow you to download the first chapter of books in the Kindle store for free to preview them. This provides the perfect opportunity to test it out, so that's exactly what I did.

Immediately upon downloading the app my first task was to get some content to test it out with. The home screen provides a promising 'Get Books' button, but unfortunately that merely takes you to a screen entitled 'How to Get Books' which does nothing other than tell you go 'Get the best shopping experience by visiting on your Mac or PC'. It also, helpfully, tells you that you can 'use Safari on your iPhone to buy books' (and, in one small nod to decent functionality provides you with a link that will open Safari to the Kindle store on your iPhone). So my first experience with the app was one of disappointment; I wasn't near my computer, and isn't the most mobile Safari-friendly site in the world. So my next thought was to check the iPhone app (iTunes store link). This app allows you to browse Amazon's vast catalogue of products and even purchase them. Unfortunately, for the Kindle editions of books it only allows you to add them to your wish list and not purchase them directly. I'm generously assuming that the next version of the Kindle for iPhone app, or the iPhone app will remedy this situation and provide an integrated way to purchase Kindle content. In the meantime, I used mobile Safari to grab a preview of the Kindle edition of one of the books on my wish list. I chose Sam Harris' The End of Faith, as I've been wanting to read it for a while.

I haven't used an actual Kindle yet, so I don't know how it compares, but the Kindle for iPhone app provides a pretty good interface for browsing your library. You can easily sort them by recentness, title, or author, and there's an 'Archived Items' section that allows you to see and download books that you've purchased but which haven't yet been added to your iPhone (when you purchase a book from the Kindle store it gives you a choice of which device(s) it should be pushed to initially). It even helpfully provides you with an indicator of whether you have the full book or just a sample, although it does not appear to tell you if you've started reading a book yet or how far through it you are which would be a nice touch.

Upon selecting my book sample to read, I was initially taken to the first page of text of my single chapter. However the book's title page, copyright page, and a hyperlinked table of contents (among other things) were also present. Pages are turned, intuitively, with a swipe of the finger to the right or to the left. A single tap on the screen reveals various options such as a back button in case you've followed any links (such as on the table of contents, or in the case of endnotes), a button to add a book mark, a button to adjust the font size (I chose to go with the smallest size in order to minimize the number of page turns necessary), a reload button, and a less than clearly labeled button that looks like an open book. It also provides you with a slider that allows you to easily scroll through the book, and an indicator of how far through the book your indexed, I believe, by word number (the screen I'm currently looking at indicates that my location is 387-395). The less-than-obvious button is actually a 'Go to' button which gives you a number of options including 'Cover', 'Table of Contents', 'Beginning', 'Location' (which allows you to enter the number of a particular location), and any notes or marks you may have added. A pretty good system, though it was only through experimentation that I figured out what it actually was.

The reading experience, I found to be surprisingly good. I've played around with the Stanza eBook app for iPhone, but was never really able to stick with it for long periods of time. I don't know if it was the choice of fonts, the quality of type-setting, or what, but I found reading with the Kindle for iPhone app to be great. One of the common criticisms I've heard of the Kindle and of other eBook readers is that it doesn't simply 'disappear' the way a paper book does when you're reading it. Maybe it's the intuitive touchscreen interface the iPhone provides, but I definitely didn't find this to be the case. In fact I blazed through my sample first chapter in no time at all and rarely noticed that I was reading off an iPhone. The text is exceptionally clear and easy to read, and while I'd prefer the larger screen of an actual reader device, I found there to be plenty of text on the screen that I wasn't constantly flipping to the next page. In fact I was probably only about halfway through the sample first chapter before I decided that spending the $7.96 to buy the full eBook is totally worth it. Basically, I'm a convert.

I still have concerns about the Kindle in general—I don't like the locked-in nature of using Amazon's DRMed content, and the price is currently just a little more that I'm willing to pay for a reader (especially now that I can read the books on my iPhone)—but I'm now convinced that my initial feelings, that eBooks are the way of the future and it won't be long before I, at least, am doing most of my reading electronically, were right on the mark. I'll definitely be buying a book or two through the Kindle store now, though I'm still hesitant to invest in much of a Kindle library in case I end up deciding to go with some other solution, but if Amazon comes out with a Kindle 3 that is a little more in line with what I want from a dedicated reader, I'll almost definitely be purchasing it. And I'm still not ruling out the purchase of a Kindle 2 entirely. If Amazon were to drop the price by $100, I'd buy one today. But I do very much hope that Amazon and the publishing companies will find some way forward for more open content. The fear of getting trapped into a system that ends up being inferior will certainly continue to curb my investment in the Kindle, but since Amazon has stated, and now demonstrated, that Kindle content will be made available on other devices, they may well have sold me on their eBook ecosystem.

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