iPhone Beating E-Readers at Their Own Game?

With the iPhone still the hottest smartphone, there's much speculation about how its future will pan out. For some the money's on gaming, but new research from Flurry is surprisingly different: eBook apps are overtaking games in the App Store.

iphone games versus iphone books

Flurry's analysis involved tracking the number of applications submitted to the iTunes App Store per month since its inception. A simple comparison between the percentage of apps falling into the games category versus those under the books category reveals that between launch and August of this year, games outnumbered book apps and dedicated books in the catalog, comprising some 16-17% of all apps in July and August of 2009. But in late August of this year, book apps, which had been growing all along, overtook games, and by October games were just 13% of apps while books were 20% of the total.

That may be a surprise to many, possibly even including Apple—whose current iPod Touch advertising is extremely games-centric. The iPhone (and Touch) is often seen as the biggest threat to Sony and Nintendo in the handheld gaming market, since it's a converged device and people would prefer to not haul around extra gadgets.

And the iPhone as an e-reader seems like a clumsy solution, compared to the way the industry itself is trending. Its screen is small, not too good in sunlight and it uses LCD technology, which isn't the most relaxing on the eyeballs as well as being comparatively power-thirsty. Compared to large-screen e-readers like the Kindle or the Nook. which have long battery lifespans and easy-on-the-eye e-ink screens, reading a book on the iPhone would seem to be a much less satisfying experience. It's why there's such a push towards e-readers at the moment, and why there's much excitement about the format from forward-thinking newspaper and magazine publishers.

But Flurry's data suggests that actually consumers do like using the iPhone to access e-book texts (or at least app makers think that way, and the growing trend in the books app data shows they must be in tune with the public). Perhaps e-reader's aren't the future that Amazon and Sony and even some publishing houses would like them to be—a point being debated over at Reuters recently. With the iPhone still a hot-ticket news item, and fresh data that expanding iPhone usage is likely to soon see Apple beating RIM's BlackBerrys in smartphone marketshare, there could be massive implications for the nascent e-publishing game. That's because there are tens of millions of the devices in use, and though Amazon calls the Kindle best-selling (and won't reveal the sales figures) it surely hasn't sold tens of millions of units—how many people do you know who have one, compared to iPhone-owning friends? It might also go a long way to explaining why Amazon has its own Kindle iPhone app. Maybe the future of e-books really does lie in Apple's hands, not Amazon's or Barnes and Nobles.

[Via blog.Flurry, The New York Times]

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  • Kit Eaton

    @Ian. Indeed! You do seem to be the ideal user for books on the iPhone. My main surprise is that the screen is so tiny, and it's not e-ink... but then maybe the advantages of e-ink have been overblown.
    @John. Darn. The AAAA will be after me!
    @Adrian--interesting, I hadn't thought about audio books. There's already a decent channel for those onto iTunes with Audible as the supplier. I wonder if that could be a model for the way the iTablet's e-book business would run?
    @Thiago. Indeed, handheld gaming isn't under *immediate* threat from the iPhone/Touch. But the Apple devices are significant new players in the field, and are having an effect. Just look at the sheer number of titles, and pricing differences between the iTunes Store games and, say, the PSP.

  • Thiago Santos

    Kim, I agree with your regarding the e-reader. But on the gaming arena, the statement is way speculative. The market of portable gaming devices has games and franchises totally distinct from the games developed for mobile devices, with Sony and Nintendo wrestling in a well known segment that isn't really fond of smartphines. The usual gamer Nintendo DS or PSP customer WANTS a GAMING FOCUSED device, as well the traditional gamer heads for a Nintendo Wii or X360. Remember former N-Gage fiasco? But regarding the competition with Kindle, the text contains a lot of reasonable insights.


  • abashford

    Factor in audiobooks (the best way to read on the iPhone IMHO), and Apple totally owns this market.

  • John Vasko

    Kit, FYI oops: possessive its does not need an apostrophe. much speculation about how it's future.

  • Ian Frazer

    Not surprising in the least actually. I have been reading using my Palm Tungsten C initially, and since July '08, my iPhone 3G. I find it a handy way to carry several dozen books, articles, etc. with me on day-to-day travels,, or on business trips. And, you can't beat the price of reading either. I probably am buying more paper books than ever though as a result. I am just "weeding out the slush" more successfully than ever before. I am trying new authors and new genres all the time - much more so than being forced to use just paper-based trial-&-error. I doubt I would buy a Kindle or similar such device as it would become just one more FRED to deal with. Convergence is really what it is all about - cell phone, browser, e-mail, tools, applications, a few games, and a reader. With the exception of the lack of a corporate ready interface (iTunes -is- horrible), thank you Apple for the iPhone.