iBooks vs. Kindle: Battle of the iPad e-Reader Apps

Enough time has gone by now to get a sense for what the iPad can handle. I've had time to digest its offerings from the higher-resolution screen to the nuances of having a full-screen map to manipulate with my hands. Yet the major difference I wanted to explore right out of the gate are the reader applications. Device comparison and business strategy aside, I'm not seeing enormous difference in the app designs between the Apple-produced iBooks and Amazon's Kindle app—and that can mean trouble for Apple's book business.

iBooks: Celebrity Skin

At first glance this has the fanfare of an actress walking the red carpet.  From the literal interpretation of a book design, page turn functionality, and library shelf, Apple has elegantly given us a way to experience e-book reading without going over the top with design for the sake of design.

I thought I would go nuts for the page turning feature. Not really. Whether it's a slide, swipe or page flip, you quickly look past the novelty and get to what’s important, the content. When the iPad is positioned horizontally, books display in two columns for quick digestible reading. Coupled with this is a button to the table of contents and your bookmarks, brightness adjustment, font selection and increase/decrease, and an ability to search within the body of the text. Pressing and holding a word, unveils the ability to open a dictionary, bookmark, or search.  By default, iBooks' display text in Postini and the font color is black. So far, so good.

Kindle: Simple Warrior

With more of a blunt Spartan design, the Kindle application cuts to the chase and displays content. No page turns, simple table of contents, less design elements...content.

Along with the experience, virtually all controls are at the bottom of the Kindle app making interaction a hair easier (I define a hair easier by not having to move my hand 5.5 inches up the iPad to press a button).  The Kindle app allows for bookmarking, ability to jump to the TOC, and viewing options (to change font size, screen brightness, and three-screen contrast options). Pressing and holding any word unveils options to note or highlight. By default, the letters seem to be a bit grayer than pure black and when horizontal, the Kindle app simply displays the same amount of words as the vertical display, in one wide column. 

Apple will be in new territory with this application. Their hardware and software design alone can usually drive adoption and change markets on the fly. Yet beyond a two-column display in horizontal positioning and a few bells and whistles, iBooks isn't really providing any incredible, driving experience that would make me choose this app over the other.  And with a limited (yes it's deep, but still limited) selection, I wouldn't be opposed to using the Kindle application at all. On the contrary, design won't drive adoption of an app in this case, book inventory will:  Apple 0, Amazon 1.

Read Giovanni Calabro's blog Design Pragmatist
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Giovanni Calabro has over 13 years of experience leading interactive research and design efforts for a wide range of business sectors. At Siteworx, Giovanni leads the design team responsible for user experience strategy, brand analysis, search engine optimization (SEO), search and analytics integration and social media strategy. With clients as diverse as MTV Networks, USATODAY.com, NPR, and JPMorgan Chase, Giovanni provides expert strategy and advice in the areas of stakeholder and staff alignment and new publishing models for emerging platforms such as social media and mobile channels.

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  • Gregory Ferenstein

    @jensen, do you think Apple will be forced to keep apps separate between the iphone and the ipad?


  • Patricia Mejia

    I'm a total fan of the simplicity of the Kindle for reading for two reasons: it's easy on the eyes and virtually "disappears" once you're engrossed in the content. When it comes to books, it's the content I want to experience, not the gadget.

  • Brent Morris

    J C. — I don't think Giovanni is confused at all. You support what he concludes in his last paragraph.

  • J C

    Giovanni has confused the meaning of "design" with style and facade.
    As an award winning professional graphic designer and design educator with 20 years experience in the field of print, corporate, and digital media design, I see the fake looking paper pages as interfering with the task of reading a good book. It's kitsch and decoration and Apple at its worst. (Calm down, I love Apple. Just bought a new iMac. My 20th or so Mac.)
    I am not saying the Amazon iPad reader is better but I would rather not have the fake book shelf and fake pages and focus on the text (which, Apple does a fine job with - typography, that is).
    This is a chance to redefine what reading is. We need less trips down the visual grammar memory lane using artificial physicality of fake paper and binding and develop new signals for the reader to know how to move on from section to section.
    Oh, and I love books. The old kind. Made of paper. But the iPad is a chance to create the bindings of the future.

  • Giovanni Calabro

    What's interesting is that the sheet of glass I was prepared to battle with my already strained eyes, didn't cause much issue. Even with the ever present airplane light blasting from above. I've tried to read books on the iPhone and simply can't. It's a preference, but I'd like to see more of the page at once. That said it is an advantage that Kindle allows for content to be dispersed to multiple devices.

  • Jensen Gelfond

    I'm sold on iBooks vs Kindle (the design is just more pleasant to me, which is important when I'm trading the aesthetic of a book for a sheet of glass). The only thing I'm waiting for to start purchasing books is the introduction of iBooks for iPhone so that I can have the same device flexibility as the Kindle (Kindle/iBooks on my computer would serve no purpose for me)