Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Amazon's Kindle hits the iPhone

March 4, 2009: 9:33 AM ET

kindle-on-iphone

If there was ever any question that Amazon's (AMZN) Jeff Bezos is more interested in selling books than selling Kindle electronic book readers, the answer showed up on the iTunes App Store overnight Wednesday: a free application to read Kindle books on Apple's (AAPL) iPhone.

Given that there are more than 17 million iPhones in circulation and probably not more than a few hundred thousand Kindles, Amazon has, with a single stroke, vastly increased the size of its potential readership without necessarily boosting sales for its $359 reader.

The app, which you can download here, works pretty much as advertised. You can't order books directly from the iPhone -- you have to do that from a Kindle or through a Web browser. But once you've established that you have an Amazon account, the books you've ordered show up instantly -- and wirelessly -- on the screen, thanks to the magic of Amazon's new Whispersync technology. If you've started to read a book on a Kindle, Whispersync is smart enough to remember what page you were on.

There are plenty of titles to choose from in the Kindle Books section of the Amazon store -- more than 240,000, according to Amazon's press release -- although as you might expect, the list is heavily tilted toward current bestsellers (104 of the 112 titles on New York Times' list, most for $9.99 each).

At the store, you can arrange books by popularity ("The Shack" by William P. Young currently tops that list), customer review (Ron Paul's "The Revolution") or publication date ("Eye of the Beholder," Jade Falconer).

But you get a better feel for the range of books available when you list them by price, high-to-low or low-to-high. The most expensive title is something called "Selected Nuclear Materials and Engineering Systems (Part 4)," which sells for $6,431.20. On the other end of the spectrum, there are pages and pages of books priced at $0.00, including Arnold Bennett's "Sacred and Profane Love" and Hugh Dalton's "With British Guns in Italy," to name a couple at random.

obama-prefaceThe books are certainly readable on the iPhone, although I'm not sure anybody is going to make it through Doris Kearns Goodwin's 944-page "Team of Rivals" (No. 16 on the Kindle bestseller list) on a 3.5-inch screen. The pages are formatted for Kindle, not the iPhone, which creates some unfortunate typographical effects. At right, for example, is what the preface page of Barack Obama's "Dreams from My Father" looks like on the iPhone, with an ugly and unnecessary break in the word "preface."

All in all, the reading experience on Kindle for iPhone falls somewhere between Google's (GOOG) free iPhone Book Search app, with 1.5 million titles to choose from but minimal formatting, and Andrew Kaz's $2.99 Classics, which offers only a dozen or so books, but each of them specially formatted for the iPhone screen.

And that's probably as it should be.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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