Well that was sooner than expected: The new Kindle 2 is just out of its box for a week and Amazon's gone and released a "Kindle" e-book reader app for the iPhone. Does this mean Amazon's fallen out of love with its wacky little e-book?
Probably not. Though in light of finding that the Kindle 2 isn't much of an improvement over the first edition, perhaps that should read "probably not much."
The iPhone app is a pretty clever beast--it lets you read any Kindle-version text from Amazon's library, first chapters of other books can be browsed for free, it'll let you add bookmarks, and you can adjust the text size just like you can on the Kindle. Though Apple's iTunes rules mean apps can't sell content within themselves, it's fairly simple to get a new book for the Kindle app--you just browse Amazon, buy the text and Amazon's syncing software does the rest. Even more sweetly, if you're already a Kindle owner it'll sync with the device and share bookmarks and annotations between the two, so you can keep track of where you are in a book no matter which e-reader option you're using. And unlike the Kindle, when you're done reading you can fire up a game, browse the Web, check out a movie or make a phone call.
All in all, it sounds like a great idea. But that's why there are already a number of existing e-book app writers for the iPhone--and the makers of those apps must be wringing their hands right now: Amazon's a huge player, with low prices and a huge catalog and its e-reader app is free.
But the Kindle device itself probably won't be threatened by the iPhone app. For two main reasons. The first is display technology: Though the e-ink screen used on the Kindle isn't the most amazing out there, it's certainly a rather closer experience to reading a book than viewing text on an iPhone. The screen is simply far bigger than the iPhone's, and e-ink is gentler on the eyes than a brightly-lit LCD--the two main reasons for designing an electronic book in the first place.
Secondly, there's the question of battery life--the iPhone simply can't keep up with the Kindle. While all the display, lighting, processing and wireless tech in the cellphone suck on the batteries fiercely, the Kindle manages delicate sips on its power supply when needed. E-ink display tech only draws power when its state is being changed, when you turn a page for example. On a long flight, the iPhone would conk out within a handful of hours, while the Kindle keeps going.
And that's the Kindle 2. Yet, with a rumored larger, touchscreen, color-display Kindle 3 on the way, the advantages of the gadget will become even clearer.
And what the iPhone app means is that Amazon is leveraging its power to find new revenue streams in new places--turning "Kindle" into more than a single e-book device suggests that Amazon may have other plans for the future, perhaps even selling e-books overseas, once the licensing is sorted out. After all, as the cable companies are finding out, nowadays its not so much controlling your own delivery system that makes you money, but selling your content to consumers however you can.