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Kindle On iPhone: Good, Not Great

Anyone with an iPhone or an iPod Touch can now download the Amazon Kindle for iPhone application and use the device to read electronic books.

I tried the application on both a 3G iPhone and an iPod Touch, which both worked in exactly the same way. You can download the free application from the iPhone App store.

The first time you run the application you're asked to enter your Amazon account information. In my case, because I had previously purchased books for a Kindle I reviewed last year, the books I bought then were archived and immediately available for me to download to the iPhone.

Even with a 3G connection, that process took quite a bit longer than it does with a Kindle but, after a few minutes, one of my books was available to read. Amazingly, Amazon kept track of the page I was on when I last read it on the Kindle more than a year ago, and took me right there. Of course, I was able to go back to the beginning or any other portion of the book.

Clicking anywhere on the screen brings up the Kindle icons, including one that takes you to the table of contents, another for adding a bookmark and one for adjusting the size of the font.

Of course most people who download the application aren't likely to have used a Kindle and probably won't have any pre-purchased books in their archive.

Unlike a Kindle, you can't purchase a book directly from within the application. For that you have to go to Amazon's Web site, either from a personal computer or by using the Safari browser on the iPhone or iPod. Browsing for books on the iPhone's browser isn't as pleasant as doing so from a Kindle, but it's certainly doable. Given the choice, I'd prefer to use a browser on a computer or a Mac, which works as long as you're signed into the same Amazon account you use with your Kindle iPhone app.

Though the experience of buying and downloading books isn't quite as easy or fast as on the Kindle, it's okay. But I wouldn't say that about reading a book on an iPhone or iPod touch.

To begin with, the screen is much smaller so you're not going to see nearly as much text on the screen as with the Kindle, which means a lot more flicking of your finger to change pages. The good news is that the new page shows up instantaneously.

Another issue is that the iPhone and iPod have a backlit display which makes reading a very different experience than reading on the Kindle's reflective screen. Bright sunlight will wash out the screen but even indoors the screen is harder on the eyes than the Kindle or Kindle 2.

Unlike the Kindle 2, which is designed to run for days or weeks between charges, an iPhone battery will die after a short period of time, which could be a deal-killer if you want to read an entire book on an airplane or other location where you don't have access to an AC outlet.

While the application makes it possible to buy and read books on an iPhone or iPod Touch, it is obvious the device that's so good for watching video, listening to music and talking on the phone isn't all that great a book reader, especially compared to the Kindle.

But, as imperfect as it is, it's a good thing that iPhone and iPod Touch users now have access to the more than 240,000 books previously available only to owners of the $359 Kindle. And like Kindle owners, they can now purchase New York Times best-sellers and most other new releases for $10 which is generally a lot less than the cost of a printed book.

I'm quite certain that a lot of people will try out this application but I'm not convinced that people will like it nearly as much as people seem to like the Kindle. And it could actually wind up boosting Kindle sales because if you do buy books to read on an iPhone and don't like the experience, you can always download them to a Kindle - once you shell out nearly $360 for a device that truly is optimized for reading books.
By Larry Magid

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