Kindle iPhone app off to promising start despite eBabel/DRM and page turning annoyance

kindle ipod amazon purchasing If you just have to own a book and can only find it in the Kindle format, then, yes, Amazon’s  new app for the iPhone and iPod Touch is a possibility—despite Amazon’s eBabel/DRM and certain annoyances, such as with page turning.

No, I couldn’t download Philip Roth’s Indigmation directly to the app in my Touch. But the process took just five minutes when I tried the Safari browser on my Touch and keyed in my Amazon ID and password. Amazon’s Web site was a cinch to use, with explicit instructions provided for "David’s Touch." Then I left the Touch’s Safari browser and fired up the Kindle reading app for the device, which, of course, is essentially an iPhone without the "Phone." I instantly spotted Indignation in the iPod’ app’s archives. Had I downloaded Indignation earlier for another machine, I could have easily synced to pick up my previous place in the book. Click on left image for a bigger view of a buying page as viewed in Safari

Why the app is off to a promising start

So why, objectively, do I think that the iPhone app is off to a promising start despite the eBabel/DRM issues I mentioned earlier?

Kindle ipod 2a 1. I can use the scroll bar to navigate my way through the whole book all the way to the end. No need to go back and forth constantly to a chapter-by-chapter menu that provides just a certain range of pages at a time. Here’s rooting for Stanza (the most popular iPhone reading app) and others to catch up! (Update: I’m reminded that BookZ, eReader and BookShelf do have The Big Scroll—this just shows you how much I’ve made Stanza part of my reading life!)

Granted, the Kindle iPhone/Touch app is sluggish when you use the scrollbar on an entire book. But I suspect this will get better with time. What’s more, you can go to individual pages by typing in their numbers. You can speed back to the start pretty quickly, too. Normally, by the way, you see just the text, no menu and scroll bar, which you can easily summon up with a tap on the screen.

2. The general interface is simple. It doesn’t offer as many customization choices as Stanza, which, unlike the Kindle software, lets you choose from different typefaces, including some heavy faces that display outstandingly well on my Touch screen. But I suspect Amazon will eventually get around to adding more fonts beyond the Times-type.

The big problem of the current interface, one more reason why I still vastly prefer Stanza, is that I apparently can’t change pages just by tapping a corner. I have to slide my finger over the screen, and that is a major hassle (pages even move sideways). It’s probably a quick fix, though. Hello, Amazon? Get to work. And meanwhile please think about ePub capabilities, as well as the ability to read existing DRMed Mobi libraries.

Detail: The Roth book might be in other e-formats—I haven’t checked. I was impatient to read it, however,  and this test gave me a good excuse. For DRMed books, my current format preference is eReader since it runs on a bunch of devices and even works in Stanza. Of course, far better for books either not to have DRM at all, or else social DRM.

Two negatives, picked up by Andrew Savikas of O’Reilly: No search feature in reader. And no support for constant-width fonts.

Interesting tip from Roland Dobbins: Try the Amazon Mobile app from the App Store. I haven’t—I need to go out now—but I will. Thanks, Roland. Other iPh/Touch tips for Kindle books welcome from all!

Related: Publishing consultant Mike Shatzkins’ review. Also see CNET blog writeup with video (left, above). Plus Andrew’s post to O’Reilly’s Tools of Change blog.

10 Comments on Kindle iPhone app off to promising start despite eBabel/DRM and page turning annoyance

  1. Roland Dobbins // March 4, 2009 at 10:51 am //

    You can easily buy Kindle books on the iPhone/iPod Touch via the Amazon Mobile app, which has been available in the App Store as a free download for quite some time. No need to muck about with Mobile Safari.

  2. Haven’t tried it, Roland, but that sounds like a great tip. I have the Amazon mobile app, so thanks for the time-saver. David

  3. eReader has the scroll bar across the whole book. So does Bookz. And Bookshelf. Stanza’s the only one I’ve had problems with chapter restrictions.

    And to be honest, although I haven’t tried the Kindle app yet, I prefer eReader to Stanza largely BECAUSE I prefer the swipe page turn to the tap. When I use Stanza I have to set the left tap zone to be my forward page turn because having to break my view of the page to tap the right side interrupts my reading. Personal preference.

  4. Adding: the sideways slide for the Kindle would indeed bug me. eReader lets me swipe upwards, a more organic (to me) movement than tapping.

  5. Roland Dobbins // March 4, 2009 at 11:42 am //

    I just want landscape mode.

  6. I have a Kindle 1 and so far I have not been able to get the sync feature to work properly between the Kindle and my iPhone. Perhaps it’s only meant to work with the Kindle 2. I have to say that it makes it pretty tempting to buy a version 2. This is an incredible feature for those who have both units.

  7. The Amazon mobile app currently does not support digital downloads. Now that Amazon has a way to deliver Kindlbe books to the iPhone, I would expect an update soon that does work with downloads (at least Kindle books, but probably not mp3). After that, it’s only a matter of time before the Kindle store is built into the Kindle app.

  8. Roland Dobbins // March 4, 2009 at 1:04 pm //

    I just figured this out – sorry for the misinformation!

  9. The following is from ars technica. It may explain why the app doesn’t do downloads:

    There is no in-app capacity for purchasing books. This may be due to a stipulation in Apple’s iPhone Developer agreement, which says that programs cannot provide additional content through distribution methods other than the iTunes Store without prior written consent from Apple. Most other e-book readers for the iPhone that offer the option of purchasing books, like Stanza or eReader, get around this by routing users to an e-book store via an embedded WebKit view. So far, this approach hasn’t been rejected by Apple.

  10. Amazon has another free app that came out a few months ago called “Amazon Mobile” that allows you to buy stuff.

    At the moment while you can buy print books via that app you can’t buy Kindle versions. I wonder if they will modify that app to allow you to do that now that you can have Kindle books on the iPhone/Touch?

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