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3/4/2009
07:50 PM
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iPhone Kindle: Is Kindle Gonna Be Kindling?

In a move that some may look at as an admission of defeat, Amazon.com has made its proprietary, expensive, and single-use hardware Kindle platform available as a free app on the proprietary, expensive, and multiuse iPhone. Since the Feldmonster is an admitted iPhone addict and a reading junkie, naturally I jumped right on it. The verdict? It's pretty cool, and if you like the Kindle store selection, it's just what Dr. iPhone ordered. Still, it has a few warts. Read on.

In a move that some may look at as an admission of defeat, Amazon.com has made its proprietary, expensive, and single-use hardware Kindle platform available as a free app on the proprietary, expensive, and multiuse iPhone. Since the Feldmonster is an admitted iPhone addict and a reading junkie, naturally I jumped right on it. The verdict? It's pretty cool, and if you like the Kindle store selection, it's just what Dr. iPhone ordered. Still, it has a few warts. Read on.

Annoyances

First, let's get the most annoying thing out of the way. I just don't know why iPhone developers (or any mobile developer, for that matter) think that users won't get irritated by a four-second splash screen delay. Well, guys, they do. Staring at the "amazonKindle with whispersync™" screen for several seconds is not high on my list of priorities. Get. Rid. Of. It. Please.

Less irritating but still kind of silly is the fact that iPhone Kindle doesn't allow for purchases through its interface -- you have to use the iPhone's browser and navigate the Amazon site. Not a deal breaker, but, man, you'd think, since Amazon has some serious skin in the game for revenue that it would make it alarmingly easy to buy stuff. Not that I know anything about that from the PC site where I click, click, click my way into way more books, CDs, DVDs, and electronics that I need. So, OK, let's just say that it's enough of a pain to buy stuff from the iPhone's browser that there's no clear and present danger that iPhone Kindle users are going to impulse buy their way into an economic stimulus package for Amazon. Which might be too bad for Amazon.

Interface

I liked that the iPhone Kindle works just like the iPhone. Swipe that page, and poof, you naturally slide to the next page. This is cool, but I was surprised that Kindle doesn't have an option to turn off the sliding transitions like the popular iPhone app Stanza does. I think, for some, looking at the swipe eye-candy might get old. The technology barbarians among you might grunt, "Give next page NOW. Me not LIKE waiting for swipes!" Not me, though, I'm still in love with iPhone swipes.

Jumping to the table of contents didn't work on the first book I bought, A Book Of Five Rings. (And, like every other electronic platform, the title I really wanted, Shogun, wasn't available, but that's just a matter of time.) But once I checked out something a little more contemporary (Coraline), the table of contents worked fine.

There were only five font choices. This isn't a big deal for casual users. A bigger deal is a lack of choice in text alignment. Kindle uses "full justification," meaning that spaces are inserted so that the text always hits the right border. At large sizes, this is kind of annoying.

There's also the Henry Ford option of "You can have any background color you want, so long as it's white." Unfortunately, I have been spoiled by Stanza's display customization, so I know what I'm missing. The right background makes it easy on the eyes, at least to this 13-diopter visually challenged geek.

I've also been spoiled by getting used to the concept of search when I'm reading a book on the iPhone. Kindle doesn't support search at all.

Bookmarks caught me off guard at first. To bookmark, you hit the "+" in a very iPhone-like way, but the only apparent result to me (at first) was that Kindle went back to full-screen mode. But no, there's a little teeny "dog ear" in the corner of the page now, and you do indeed have a bookmark right where you want it.

Finally, there's the unavoidable fact that Kindle's running on a phone. As Dr. Phil might say, "How's that working out for you?" Well, being interrupted by a phone call while reading can be annoying, but Kindle returns you to your blissful world of reading immediately after you ignore the call. But (back to our first annoyance), if you do take the call, Kindle reminds you who's boss by displaying the 800-pound Amazon gorilla splash screen again for a few seconds. (Did I mention that Amazon should get rid of the splash screen?)

Bottom Line

Kindle is a welcome addition to the iPhone menagerie, particularly since it's free. But then, I'm not someone who is going to drop $300-plus on a single-purpose e-ink device. Or, to put in my ex-New Yorker grumpy way, even though I'm a geek, I'm not someone who's going to spend $300 on a way to read books discounted from $6.95 to $5.95.

But maybe that's Amazon's very point. One can look at the real revenue involved -- the ongoing revenue stream due to book content purchases -- and see the very smart move on Amazon's part to focus on what's important: the distribution of its content to a broader audience, and a hedge on the bet on whether the hardware Kindle becomes as popular as Jeff Bezos wants it to be.

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