iPhone vs. Kindle – Are they both wrong?

via New iPhone e-book application takes aim at Amazon’s Kindle – TechFlash: Seattle’s Technology News Source.

The New York Times today explores the growing visibility of electronic books, with the Kindle leading the way. Amazon doesn’t disclose Kindle sales figures, but the Times says estimates range from 260,000 to a million units sold. The story also notes that iPhone applications gave a boost to electronic books this year and “are already starting to generate nearly as many digital book sales as the Sony Reader, though they still trail sales of books in the Kindle format.”

The iPhone and the Kindle are two very different approaches to the ebook market.  The Kindle is a dedicated gadget for reading ebooks that happens to do other things.  The iPhone is coming from the other direction – a device that everyone wants that now happens to do ebooks.

While both are great for the industry as a whole, neither has yet done for ebooks what the iPod did for digital music.  When it was released, the Kindle might have been that game-changer, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way.  Hope remains for the new version of the Kindle, rumored to be released early this year.

But which is a better approach?  Should you make a device specifically for ebooks?  Or should you take a device that can be adapted to do ebooks, and find a software solution?

The iPhone’s software-based solution is closer to the ideal, but it has a long way to go.  First of all, it can’t just be for the iPhone.  It may be the hottest smartphone out there, but it’s not the only one, and Apple has always been stingy with their software.  And there are more and more screens in our lives, and more and more of the screens are connected to the internet.  Why limit yourself to your phone or your ebook reader?  In a decade, your toaster will have a four-inch LCD.  Maybe you’ll want to read an ebook there.

If we focus on the software solutions, and the problems common to all readers – ease of use, reformatting text for different size screens, etc – then we grow the entire market, and the next time something like the Kindle comes along, it has much bigger shoulders to stand on.

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