On Kindle, Apple, and Goring Oxen

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The iPhone Kindle Reader

Last night the App store debuted Amazon's new Kindle Reader application for iPhone. As a generation 1 Kindle owner, I immediately jumped all over this. This free application accesses your Amazon Kindle account and allows you to selectively download books you have purchased to your iPhone or iPod Touch. I've loaded seven books on my iPhone (a few of which are quite long) with no noticeable hit on available RAM.

k3 iphone.jpgIn between dealing with the onslaught of life, I've been reading Niel Stephensen's "Anathem." It is an excellent book, but I've not had much time lately for fiction. So the first time I loaded Anathem on my iPhone it started right where I left off on the Kindle. Amazon's Whispersync service works with the iPhone application. So I read the book off my phone for 20 minutes. The experience was not bad. You turn pages by flipping sideways which makes much more sense than scrolling up and down. This way you always pick up where you left off and this comports with an entire lifetime of turning pages in books. I then ran over to my Kindle. Sure enough, Kindle figured out what I'd read on the iPhone and sent me straight to the page I left off on the iPhone. Delicious.

All is not perfect however. I have several books, particularly reference and continuing educational materials, that I've converted to Kindle using Stanza for OS X. Sadly, I cannot get those materials into the iPhone Kindle Reader. Hopefully that will change. Also, while the reading experience is acceptable on the iPhone, I still think the form factor and digital ink on the Kindle is better.

So What Does this Mean?

With this move Amazon has taken a huge step toward e-book domination. I've always felt this market was Apple's for the taking. They were the only company with the existing infrastructure (iTunes) to make the e-book model work. That is no longer true. Amazon has a compelling model and all indications are that they are not so much interested in selling proprietary hardware as they are books. This is a good fit with Apple that (by most reports) makes its money on hardware. If Amazon has embraced the iPhone, can you imagine how nice it would be using WhisperSync service on the often rumored super-sized iPod Touch? Likewise, if Amazon is on the iPhone, don't you think an OS X version is already in the works? I can see Amazon looking at giving its customers as many ways possible to read their books. The Amazon experience is making it easy for readers to happily drop themselves into the Kindle ecosystem. Sound familiar?

The fact that Apple allowed this app on the iPhone would indicate Apple is okay with giving up the e-book. I think one assumption a lot of people have made (myself included) is that Apple ever had designs on the e-book market. In retrospect, this may have never been true. Steve Jobs said last year he had no interest in selling e-books. (Of course he also said at one point he had no interest in a video iPod.) Regardless, getting back to the idea that Apple makes its money on hardware, perhaps the Kindle and Amazon's strategy of readers everywhere is a good thing for Apple. Apple is in the unique position of making the only device that can combine your iTunes and Kindle libraries. The boys in Cupertino could sell a lot of hardware if they play this right.

The Goring of Oxen

So who are the losers if this trend continues. The obvious answer is other book reader formats. However I'm also thinking this can not make book publishers very happy. The nuts and bolts end of publishing (manufacturing and distributing) is supplanted by a successful Kindle store. If publishers are no longer getting authors into bookstores, how long will it be until authors find a way into the Kindle store without publishers? Like the record industry, it should be very interesting to see how this all develops. If at the end it means musicians and authors make more money and guys in suits make less, that will be a good thing.

When Kindle premiered I mocked it. Now that I've used one for a year, I'm thinking Amazon just might have "iTunesed" books.