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5/28/2009
07:00 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Cool-er Kindle Competitor Stokes Ebook Mania

I'm not a big fan of David Pogue (this video is one reason, though mainly it's because he has a larger audience than I), but I took notice when he reviewed the latest Kindle alternative. What does it all mean? Ebooks are real, and they'll eventually replace print, but for now I'm ticked there are no good portable PDF readers for smartphones.

I'm not a big fan of David Pogue (this video is one reason, though mainly it's because he has a larger audience than I), but I took notice when he reviewed the latest Kindle alternative. What does it all mean? Ebooks are real, and they'll eventually replace print, but for now I'm ticked there are no good portable PDF readers for smartphones.OK, let me unravel those threads and try to weave a coherent post. Pogue's review is about the Cool-er (or COOL-ER, if you go to their site), which is an ebook reader from a UK company called Interead.

Cool-er's sell is that it costs only $249, which is $100 less than Amazon's second-generation 6-inch Kindle. (Its new newspaper-sized -- well, 9.7-inch -- Kindle DX costs a whopping $489.) Sadly, Pogue pans the Cool-er, both because it's clunky -- Interead has an excuse in that they rushed it to market in four months -- and because its companion ebook store has slim pickings compared to Amazon.

When you think about it, though, it wouldn't matter if Cool-er were way cooler than Kindle. Hey, the Sony ebook reader, which on the market well ahead of Kindle, is more elegant (as you would expect from Sony). That hasn't helped. (In late news, a company called Plastic Logic demonstrated another planned Kindle challenger at the Wall Street Journal's D7 conference.)

The deal is, ebook competitors can come up with platforms which slice bread and take you out dancing. It won't matter. Amazon has become the iTunes of the electronic book world, and its competitors are destined to fates comparable to those of the iPod's mp3-player alternatives. Namely, miniscule market shares.

Smartphone Action

Where the game isn't over, though, is on the smartphone. There are a bunch of ebook clients for the iPhone. On that platform, Amazon doesn't have a leg up on its competitors, because the hardware -- not the ereader client -- is the gating factor. (It's the small screen, stupid!)

OK, well maybe Amazon's iPhone for Kindle app does have a little bit of an advantage, because it's connected to Amazon's amply populated online Kindle bookstore. However, Amazon's lead here is not as large as you might think. Fictionwise, which is the bookstore behind the iPhone "eReader" app, is owned by Barnes & Noble, which is no slouch. (Hopefully, B&N, which recently bought Fictionwise, will fix its crappy Web site.)

And Lexcycle, which offers the iPhone Stanza ereader app, is plugged into a bunch of good book-buying sites, as well as Project Gutenberg, from which you can download free out-of-copyright oldies like Sherlock Holmes. (Or Thomas de Quincey's"Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.")

So the iPhone e-reader battle isn't over, and the netbook one hasn't yet begun. Amazon might win by the heft of its e-bookstore footprint, but it's also likely that multiple reader platforms will live in the smartphone space in perpetuity, to fill different users' needs.

Which brings me to my closing rant: Why hasn't Adobe seized the opportunity to make PDFs the preferred ebook format? I can't find a decent PDF reader for my iPhone, and it's not for lack of trying out some of the available apps. As ebooks, PDFs are still difficult to deal with. Admittedly, this isn't Adobe's fault. The Amazons of the world, and the MobiReaders before them, have resisted standardization in favor of proprietary formats.

Perhaps there's an issue with PDF conversion. I found that to be the case recently when I had to jump through electronic hoops to format a free e-book to read on my iPhone. The Stanza reader is the friendliest reader in terms of letting you share un-DRMed files between your PC and iPhone. Stanza also attempts to convert. However, when I opened a PDF on my PC's Stanza reader, it was filled with all sorts of weird characters and extra spaces. I eventually had to opt for a .txt version of the book, which uploaded to my iPhone via Stanza with fewer problems. (There are still lots of errand extra spaces in the text, but it's livable.)

Btw, it wasn't the de Quincey. That one is available via Gutenberg. The book I wanted to read on my iPhone was Frederick Allen Lewis's contemporaneous Depression-era history, Since Yesterday. (If that sounds familiar, perhaps it's because you read its better-know predecessor about the 1920s, "Only Yesterday," in college, like I did.) Anyway, I highly recommend the book; the parallels between the two crisis eras are startling, to say the least.

Follow me on Twitter: (@awolfe58)

What's your favorite ebook reader? Let me know, by leaving a comment below or e-mailing me directly at alex@alexwolfe.net. Like this blog? Subscribe to its RSS feed: (here)

 My videos on ( YouTube)  Facebook    LinkedIn Alex Wolfe is editor-in-chief of InformationWeek.com.

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