Fight or Flight: 4 Upgrades iBooks Needs to Battle Kindle

Last Updated Sep 30, 2010 4:48 PM EDT

Apple (APPL) recently made its colorful iBooks platform available on the iPod and iPhone, but this week Amazon (AMZN) unveiled Kindle on the Research In Motion (RIMM) Playbook as well as a web-only Kindle integrated in browsers. By focusing on the software and not the hardware, Amazon is exposing the limitations of iBooks -- and Apple will have to react quickly to catch up on the book front.

Here are four things iBooks needs immediately:

In-browser preview: Amazon just launched Kindle on the Web, which allows authors (like myself) to put excerpts of their Kindle books within their webpages. It's a simple extension of the "Look Inside" preview found on Amazon.com, but released from the confines of the Amazon web site. It serves as good advertisement for the author and publishers, and a user-friendly option for the consumer.

Previewing books on the iBookstore requires downloading iBooks on an Apple device. Consumers can get a synopsis and reviews in iTunes, but no actual text. Having a web-based preview system would encourage purchasing while still keeping the main book inside the Apple ecosystem.

iBooks on Mac/PC: No, iBook readers still can't enjoy their books on their home computer. Meanwhile, the Kindle platform is available on:

  • iPhone
  • iPod
  • iPad
  • PC
  • Mac
  • Android
  • Blackberry
  • Playbook
You can forgive Apple for not embracing every platform under the sun, given its walled-garden business model -- but it's just stupid not to allow Mac users to read Apple e-books.

Make audio/visual titles iBooks, not app: A week after the iBooks launch, my Gadget Watch column as well as other blogs were concerned that the truly groundbreaking books, like Atomic Antelope's pop-up Alice, were being launched as separate apps. Six months later, the situation hasn't changed: There are now dozens, if not hundreds of cool, interactive stand-alone books on the iPad. Venture into the iBookstore itself, however, and it hasn't progressed much more than the pageflipping animation showed off in April.

Publishers aren't sticking around for the iBookstore update. Last week BNET Style Inc. contributor Lydia Dishman discussed how Random House, HarperCollins and other publishers announced children e-book initiatives. However, they are focused strictly on the apps. From Dishman:

Another reason to go the app route lies in the limited functionality of the .epub format. The standard for e-books right now is designed to support traditional narrative text only. Without color and video capabilities, illustrated books suffer not only from lack of pictures, but the potential for interactive engagement.


iBooks use a more complex format, but, beyond color pictures and extremely limited animation, Apple hasn't shown what it can do. As a result, it's viewed as basically equivalent to the Kindle platform -- except with a smaller selection and more limited reading options.

Organize the store: The biggest immediate problem with the iBookstore is its organization, or lack thereof. It is, quite simply, a jumbled mess. For instance, two of my ten books appear on the iBookstore. One of them, the tech guide The Pocket Idiot's Guide to the iPod, is actually under "Mysteries and Thrillers", which I'm sure is helping book sales for Penguin and me. To be fair, Amazon has had more than a decade to organize its digital library, but Apple is the one that decided to take it head on. It needs to take the reader's needs seriously.

The overarching issue here is that Apple is expecting the customer to come to it: Download the software to preview the book, buy the hardware to read the book, find the book using this convoluted search mechanism. Without some major adjustments, iBooks will permanently be third to the Kindle and to Apple's own app store.

Photo courtesy of andi.vs.zf // CC 2.0

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