Amazon released Kindle for the iPhone today, a possibility I mentioned back in February. Having taken the opportunity to check it out this morning, I can tell you one thing. It’s the best Kindle app for the iPhone. Not exactly big shoes to fill, but there it is.
I’m sure, however, you’re wanting to know how it stands up to the competition of other eBook readers and eBook apps (apps that serve the purpose of being a single book and a reader all-in-one) on the iPhone. Since I haven’t had the opportunity to use the Kindle itself, I can’t tell you how exactly it compares. Instead, I will give you some insight in how it compares to other apps on the iPhone itself.
For starters, if you’re looking for free content, Kindle is not the place for you. One of the big features of Kindle has always been the ability to read many different newspapers and blogs on your Kindle without having to have a subscription to the print version itself. What they don’t tell you on the box is that you will pay $10 a month on average for each publication you’d like to read. Blogs, on the other hand, you can at least get a 14-day trial before they start charging you $2 every month to read what you can already get for free with a web browser. While this might make sense if a Kindle is your only portable device and you are not home at your computer often enough to read all the blogs you want, it is patently ridiculous when you have an iPhone. I can almost justify it on an iPod touch, as you could fire up the app in a Wi-Fi hotspot and take the blogs with you on the road, but many RSS readers already do that for you and require only a flat fee to purchase them from the app store. If you have an iPhone, free RSS readers can get you access to all your favorite blogs without ever firing up Safari.
But what about reading books? That is, after all, what the Kindle is supposed to be for, yes? The rest of the features are merely bells & whistles, designed to attract people on the fence about buying a $359 device just for reading books that cost very nearly the same price as their paperback counterparts. Let’s take a look at some of the interface options for the Kindle.
For starters, turning the page is simple enough: simply swipe your thumb or finger across the screen as though you were looking at pictures in the Photos app. The next page starts to slide into view as soon as you begin the slide, so lag isn’t an issue as some complained it was in the first Kindle device. This is the same “page-turning” method used by many eBook readers on the iPhone. However, my preferred “page-turn” is that used in Classics and Stanza: wherein a mere tap on the right- or left-hand side of the screen will turn the page forward or backward respectively.
Readability is the number one complaint I’ve seen from users of various iPhone eBook readers. Some don’t like having light coming off the screen as it causes eyestrain, others think the text is too small or that when it’s large enough to read, there are so few words on the screen that it becomes a chore to turn pages. Kindle has adjustable font sizes, which is key to ensuring that your users can actually read the books they buy from you. Kindle makes text adjustments very simple. Merely click on the “Aa” icon to bring up a bar showing five different font sizes. Click on the one that you’d like to use and watch the text immediately change so that you can decide if that’s the right size for you. While there are only five options to choose from where some apps offer more than ten, none of the apps make it quite so easy to choose. By limiting choices, users are also less likely to be overwhelmed by the variety of font sizes. However, you have only one choice for the font itself and the colors used to display the “paper” and “text”. This might be a problem for users that prefer using other eBook readers and want Kindle to mimic their preferred reader as closely as possible.
Perhaps the biggest advantage the Kindle app has over other readers is how easy it is to get content into the app itself. Unfortunately, it also highlights my biggest pet peeve about the app. By visiting the Amazon Store via any web browser, you can purchase any number of Kindle-formatted books and have them sent to your Kindle. If you have an actual Kindle, this is great as it immediately begins to synchronize. With the Kindle app for iPhone, you have to wait until you next launch the app to synchronize, but it’s very quick, even over 3G. My biggest pet peeve, however, is that you cannot browse Kindle content from within the Kindle app itself. Instead, you must launch Safari on your iPhone and browse the desktop-formatted version of the website to find what you’re looking for. An iPhone-formatted Kindle store would make this process much easier, and embedding WebKit into the app itself would allow you to browse for books without having to launch Safari at all. This would also allow for a purchased book to immediately begin synchronizing while you continue to browse the store.
All in all, I think the Kindle app for the iPhone is an excellent start, but leaves much to be desired over eBook readers that provide a great deal of content at a much nicer value and have a bit more polish to them in terms of browsing and accessing content. If you already own a Kindle, this app is the perfect complement to having your library with you on your iPhone, but if you don’t, just stick with Classics or Stanza, instead.