As I predicted in my review of Amazon.com’s Kindle 2 e-book reader last week, the giant bookseller has moved quickly to make the 240,000 book Kindle catalog available on other devices. On Tuesday night, the first Kindle software reader appeared, and it’s a free iPhone app. Called Kindle for iPhone, the app replicates the basic book-reading functions of the hardware Kindle device, and can be thought of as a complement to that device, which has more features. However, you don’t have to own a hardware Kindle to use this app. You can now choose instead to use your iPhone or iPod Touch as the reader for books from Kindle’s catalog.
I tried the new iPhone Kindle app moments after it became available on Apple’s App Store (AAPL), and my first impression is generally positive. But first, let me note the key features of the hardware Kindle that aren’t carried over to the iPhone app. It doesn’t support periodicals. It doesn’t read books aloud. It doesn’t allow you to enter notes or highlight text, look up words in a dictionary, or perform searches.
And, if you wish to purchase a new e-book, the Kindle app sends you over to the iPhone’s Safari Web browser to go the Amazon (AMZN) Web site; it lacks a built-in Kindle store.
However, it is a solid basic app for reading books, and is especially valuable if you already own a hardware Kindle, as I do. In my brief tests, the iPhone app synchronized rapidly and perfectly with my purchased library of Kindle books on Amazon’s servers, and allowed me to retrieve a previously purchased e-book, without paying again, just as my hardware Kindle does. It also synchronized to the furthest page I had read in that book on my Kindle. After reading for awhile on the iPhone, I performed that process in reverse, and my Kindle took me to the same spot where I had quit reading on the iPhone.
This means that, if I were in line at the grocery store with my iPhone, I could read a few pages of my book, and then, when I picked up my Kindle at home, I could continue reading, starting from the same spot.
I also was able to buy a new book using the iPhone’s Web bowser, and Amazon gave me a choice of auto-delivering it to either my Kindle or my iPhone, which it treats as just another Kindle. I did so, and it appeared very quickly. I later downloaded it as well to my Kindle.
Reading on the device was easy. You turn pages using the iPhone’s horizontal swiping gesture, and you can change the font size on the fly, and create bookmarks, which then can be synced back to a Kindle device. You can view any notes you made on a hardware Kindle. And there’s a slider to quickly go back and forth through chunks of the book.
The only flaw I encountered in my brief testing: if you turn pages too fast you get a fleeting blank page or two.
In two key respects, using the iPhone app seems superior to using a Kindle. First, the iPhone’s screen is brighter, and supports color, so book covers and illustrations in my test books looked much better on the iPhone than they did on the Kindle. Second, the iPhone is smaller and thus much more portable.
The new Kindle app isn’t as full-featured as some other e-reader apps for the iPhone, which do allow annotation, searching, and so forth. But it gets the job done and it gives you access to Amazon’s large catalog, which contains more popular and current commercial titles than other e-book sellers offer.
If you’re an iPhone or iPod Touch owner who has yearned for a Kindle but balked at its $359 price, or a Kindle owner with an iPhone or Touch already, this new Kindle app is a good bet, even if it is bare-bones.