Following the introduction of an improved Kindle device last month that packs a large screen suitable for reading newspapers and magazines. In addition to books, Amazon has also unveiled iPhone-optimized version of the Kindle Store reformatted for a better appearance in the mobile version of Safari browser.
It is this intentional invitation of the iPhone platform to Kindle's territory that is worrying some Amazon fans who even spell doom for Kindle as a result of this. In reality, Apple's iPhone can only dream of replacing Kindle for reading e-books on the go.
Steve Jobs: "Books are dead." Seriously?
In fact, Amazon's smash success with Kindle probably makes Steve Jobs wishing he never spelled doom for books.
"It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don't read anymore," Apple CEO told NY Times mid-January 2008. "Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don't read anymore."
While iPods and iPhones do support Audible's audiobooks [available for purchase in the iTunes Store], the self-proclaimed consumer electronics giant never dipped its toes into e-books out of Jobs' conviction that the art of reading is dead. This is why Apple has been lacking thus far a device specialized in consuming electronic books, by simple omission of one field where Apple excelled in the past: educational institutions.
In this regard, however, Amazon's Kindle for iPhone application won't change anything.
Cumbersome buying experience
Purchasing e-books from the Kindle Store on your iPhone or iPod touch is too cumbersome for an average user due to the fact that purchases are handled outside the app.
While Kindle for iPhone app lets you wirelessly browse the same online catalog of over 280,000 e-books that the Kindle device accesses, clicking the "Get Books" button kicks you out of the app and launches the iPhone-optimized version of the Kindle Store store in mobile Safari, where you make the purchase.
Then, you launch the app again so it can tap Amazon's 3G Whispersync technology to discover newly purchased items and sync them to the device over the air.
Due to limitations of the iPhone SDK 2.0, developers currently aren't allowed to sell additional content from within their apps.
The iPhone OS 3.0, which is rumored to arrive next week, will address the issue with the so-called In-App Purchase feature that gives developers ways to put content for sale on the App Store, like new levels in games or e-books. Apple provides an in-app purchasing mechanism that relies on familiar iTunes Store credentials used when you purchase an app in the App Store.
This also means that Apple takes 30 percent on the revenue that publishers make on in-app sales of additional content, potentially increasing the capital black letters on the profit side of Apple's accounting books.
That said, I seriously doubt Amazon would put nearly 300,000 e-books on the App Store that are already in the Kindle Store, let alone agree to sharing 30 percent of the e-books revenue collected from iPhone users with Apple.
This route is even less certain as Apple would most probably reject any app that connects to a third-party rival content store - if you thought that this was an Apple-only exclusive limitation policy, think again: even Microsoft's mobile application bazaar prohibits this...
The only alternative for Amazon is to create custom in-app purchasing mechanism that would enable direct Kindle Store purchases from within the application, using the company's One-Click Buying technology. Amazon and Apple negotiated and fought hard on the topic of single-click purchase patent in the past, but now both companies don't even mention the issue that was filling the titles of technology and business press for couple of years.
Continued on the next page: Why is Kindle better, Why Amazon supports the iPhone, Apple media pad to compete with Kindle.
Kindle: A reading experience superior to the iPhone
Even if all this politicies and technical hurdles are to be somehow addressed in a satisfactory enough manner, users would still get a sub-par reading experience that isn't the substitute for specialized gadgets like Kindle that remains, like it or not, the best gizmo so far to enjoy e-books.
Packing a 9.7-inch display (versus 3.5-inch on the iPhone) and an electronic ink technology, the Kindle DX features a crisp, paper-like appearance and readability, with no glare or backlight, unlike electronic displays used in computers and mobile phones. The device never gets warm so you can comfortably read as long as you like and comes with text-to-speech technology for hands-free "reading". To boot, it also comes with completely integrated New Oxford American Dictionary with over 250,000 entries and definitions to help you with unknown words.
Your iPhone does none of this.
In addition to that, the Kindle can do basic web surfing on simple sites, has a built-in support for Wikipedia and basic music player functions, all domains of Apple's iPhone. Essentially, one might argue that Kindle is what a book is supposed to be in the 21st Century - all the knowledge at the grasp of your fingers, yet lacking any intrusiveness imposed by the flashy electronic gadgets.
So, is Kindle battling the iPhone or vice versa?
Kindle and iPhone make love, not war
There are around 40 million installed iPhone and iPod touch devices in the wild. Even if Amazon can't push these users into purchasing a pricey Kindle DX ($489), the company can still profit from iPhone users by selling them e-books. The iPhone and iPod touch do not really compete with Kindle. While these devices are great for casual mobile gaming, surfing the web and checking your email, their too tiny form factor and LCD technology make the experience of reading e-books pathetic. Also, bear in mind that you can now use Kindle as an newspaper reader, and for a small fee, you can read your favorite publications through it - for instance, Bright Side of News* is also available through the Kindle Store.
Of course, things could change in the future. Kindle's success could already be one of the reasons why Apple appears to be interested in bringing a rumored media pad to the market. Basically an oversized iPod touch designed to enjoy movies and pictures, Apple media pad could be also well suited for reading e-books.
Even Apple media pad won't replace Kindle
Of course, even a media pad will be no match to Kindle's crisp e-paper screen that reduces eye strain to minimum. Anyone who had a chance to compare the experience of reading an e-book on Kindle's and iPhone's screen side-by-side must have noticed the abyss of difference that separates the two.
So, despite supporting the iPhone, Amazon can rest assured that the iPhone won't knock down Kindle as the de facto standard for reading e-books on the go. Amazon knows this and this is why the company released a free Kindle for iPhone application and is even pitching the gadget as "a perfect companion for your Kindle," suggesting you buy both.
Whichever way you look at it, Amazon wins - at least until Steve Jobs changes his mind about books.