When the iPad was first released, much hay was made of the fact that the iBookstore could not compete with Amazon's Kindle store in selection (60,000 titles vs. 450,000 at launch) or popularity (Kindle still has 80% of the e-book market). But now we're starting to realize that e-books are not going to be like music. You're not picking an all-in-one walled garden of device and service: You pick your service and device separately.
That's what the new Barnes & Noble app for the iPad tells us. Now there are three major e-book platforms on the iPad, all with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. And Barnes & Noble's app might sway an awful lot of people. It carries over many of the features that made the Nook stand out—a big selection (about the same number of books as Kindle, plus many more public domain books), and some innovative ideas.
Lending works on the iPad—you can send a book to a friend for a two-week window, during which time you can't read it, just like lending a physical book. If you stop by a Barnes & Noble store, you can read one e-book for free while you're there, just like plopping down in one of their comfy chairs with a book you found on a shelf. (To be fair, that feature is a little buggy right now—you have to stop by the register and get a coupon code at the moment. B&N promises that'll be fixed soon.) Plus, like Kindle (and unlike the iPad), B&N is multiplatform—you can continue reading a book on a computer, smartphone, portable media player, or Nook.
According to Gizmodo, buying books is kind of awkward. You get shunted out into the browser, just like with the Kindle, and the Web store isn't redesigned for iPad use or anything. Syncing is also a bit buggy—Gizmodo had a tough time deleting books. But it's just been released, and B&N seems fully aware of the bits that need polish. Hopefully they'll have everything ironed out soon, because this shows a ton of promise.
So what does the iBookstore have on its side? It has a beautiful store, integrated better than Kindle or B&N, and fancy page-turning animations. But in selection, features, and flexibility, it's in third place. And that's just fine for Apple. Amazon and B&N are allowing, even encouraging, sales of the iPad with their own e-book apps, and that's great for everyone. More choice, more books, more sales, more iPads. Everybody wins.
The Barnes & Noble iPad app is available now, for free. Books generally cost around $10.