Ebooks on the iPhone

For someone who spends a lot of time thinking and writing about ebooks and ebook readers, I’ve spent a shamefully small amount of time actually reading ebooks and using ebook readers.  But today I got to take a look at an ebook on an iPhone for the first time.

It’s not terrible.  I should have asked if it was using Stanza or something else.  It was a plain white screen with some controls on the side that disappeared after a few moments, leaving me alone with the text.  I had a little trouble with the scrolling, but I suspect an experienced iPhone user wouldn’t.

The screen is a bit small.  This whole experience started while waiting for a meeting to begin.  My coworker was reading something on the phone that required both horizontal and vertical scrolling.  It looked pretty awkward.  But it started the conversation, and then he showed me an ebook he had on the phone.  He doesn’t read much on it, and unfortunately the meeting started before I could really grill him.

But I can see that some people would be perfectly happy to read books on an iPhone (or an iPod Touch, for which Stanza is also available).  It’s not paper, or even eInk, but it is something you’re likely to have with you all the time, so the extra convenience will make up for many of the shortcomings.

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It’s not clear that reading is really evolving

CBC said Shortcovers is like a bookstore in your pocket – no matter you are, in the back of a cab, at a Starbucks or Tim’s – you can find your next great read, click, buy and get it downloaded instantly. You only need your existing mobile device: like an iPhone, Blackberry, or a web browser. That’s a huge convenience for consumers, especially because you can use the mobile phone you already have vs some special ereader.

Perhaps it’s sour grapes because their PR people didn’t reply to my inquiry, but I don’t find very much exciting or innovative about Shortcovers.  Or maybe they’re just being secretive leading up to their big launch, promised sometime this month.

The idea seems to be very similar to what Amazon has done with the Kindle, except not restricted to a particular device.  While this is a fine service that’s sure to get some use, it’s hardly ground-breaking.

However, they hint at “surprises” when they launch, so we could still see something amazing.  At the very least, increased competition in the market should be good for consumers.

via Shortcovers — Leading the evolution of reading.

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Ebooks anytime, anywhere

Shortcovers, Indigo Books & Music tells Internet Retailer, is a new division of the company with its own e-commerce infrastructure. Shortcovers in February will launch its web site and a mobile application for the iPhone.

Shortcovers seems to have the right idea.  They’re looking to support the iPhone first, then expand to other smartphones – Blackberry, and phones running Google Android or Symbian.

Michael Serbinis, executive vice president and chief information officer at Indigo Books & Music, says, “Shortcovers is a service for anyone who wants instant access to content with the convenience of having that access from the device they already own.

A software approach is certainly more adaptable to changing markets.  It won’t be long before everyone has some sort of device with them all the time that could be used for reading ebooks and other digital content.  Just because readers using E-Ink are popular now doesn’t mean it will continue.  As mobile phones become more and more like full computers, with larger screens and more powerful processors, and more and more people find that a data plan is just as vital as a voice plan, those same people will realize that any reading they might have done before on paper or on a computer screen can be done on the mobile screen, as well.  The companies that are positioned to take advantage of that before it becomes mainstream will be ahead of the competition.

What isn’t so clear is what exactly they mean by “shortcovers”.  They offer previews – first chapters and things like that – with the focus on mobile devices.  But it’s difficult to see what will set them apart from simply using Amazon.com on a mobile browser.

Article: InternetRetailer.com – Daily News for Tuesday, January 20, 2009.

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.