When the iTunes music store first came out it was all too easy to drop 99¢ on a song. At least one reviewer dubbed it iCrack because of its addictive nature. Apple later brought that easy way to part with your money into the palm of your hand in your iPhone. Last summer Apple opened the App Store and gave us yet another to part with 99¢ on fart apps. Today we have a new way to loose $10: Kindle for the iPhone.
The Kindle seems like a cool product. I have actually seen one in the wild. For me the price of $359 puts it out of reach. I understand the business model. I’m sure they have to price it that high to cover the wireless service. It’s possible that even at that price it is a loss leader to get people to buy the books. Until they figure a way to get the price down to $199 or $99, I do not think Amazon will get the critical market penetration.
So what if we take the hardware out of the equation. By developing an iPhone App, Amazon just got $10M new customers. By making it free, they have lowered the barrier to entry. And by offering “Try it free” they have made it accessible to anyone who can operate a web browser.
This is not my first time to try an ebook reader. Nearly 10-years ago I bought an Orson Scott Card novel in eReader format for my Handspring Palm OS PDA. That experience was less than stellar. It involved paying for the book online, downloading it to my computer, and copying it to the Palm. Once on the Palm, I used my credit card number to unlock the book. The eReader was not a bad platform. Ten years later I still have access to that book I bought back then. They have improved the DRM mechanism and made a reader available on my iPhone and Mac OS. Their only weakness was lack of inventory.
Last week I tried Stanza, an iPhone App for reading ebooks. The program has a nice interface. They are making several books available from sources like Project Gutenberg. While the reading experience was very good, the purchasing experience was not. In the end the achilles heal is inventory.
The Kindle certainly has no inventory problem. They already claim to have a quarter million books online. The standard price is $10. Some books are available for as little as 99¢. Now we are in iCrack territory. If only the hardware weren’t so expensive.
I downloaded the Kindle for iPhone app this morning to try it out. My first impression was a little rough. I wanted to try out the newspaper subscriptions. As much as I tried, I could not get past the message telling me that I did not have a Kindle or iPhone. I even used the feedback option in the app to try to get some help. My next attempt was to buy a book. This went off without a hitch. Poof. There went $10. The reading experience was good. The navigation is a bit rough. It requires you to swipe to turn the page. Stanza uses a single touch to turn the page. The choice of font sizes works. I found that the smallest font worked for me. I wish I could zoom in on illustrations. Amazon clearly did not want to add features to the iPhone that their own device did not have.
I got a reply from Amy V at Amazon later today. Here’s an excerpt:
The entire selection of books available for reading on Amazon Kindle can also be read on Kindle for iPhone. Periodicals such as newspapers, magazines, and blogs, and personal documents can currently only be delivered to a Kindle and cannot be viewed on Kindle for iPhone.
The real joy was when I found the Try it free option. This sends the first chapter to your device so you can start reading. This simulates the experience you get when you are in the bookstore except you cannot flip to the ending. At the same time this lets you try out your device so you can really see what the experience will be like.
The final straw for me was when I got home. I installed the Kindle for iPhone on one of my kids’ iPhone. The result was that that all my books in my library were immediately available on that phone too. I check to see if the current reading assignment was available on Amazon. It was and for just 99¢. Bought. Now the kid can do homework even though the paperback book is still at school in a locker.
I’ve tested the Kindle for iPhone app on the iPod Touch as well. The experience was just as good.
Here’s my wish list of improvements.
- Make page turning a single tap action
- Integrate with the Amazon.com iPhone App so the entire shopping experience can be done from the phone rather than in Safari.
- Add text-to-speech, it’s great for the Kindle 2
- In general, don’t be afraid to give features to the iPhone the the Kindle 2 already has