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Why Apple iBooks Still Can't Compete With the Kindle

Analysts are getting all hot and bothered over projections that Apple's (APPL) iBookstore will be a major growth area over the next three years. Unless they know something the public doesn't, though, the iBookstore still has some major issues before it has a hope of stealing the lead from Amazon (AMZN) Kindle. And guess what? Apple is unwilling or unable to solve them right now.

Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry told the International Business Times that he expects the AppStore, and specifically the iBookstore, to grow 39 percent over the next three years. One reason, he argues, is that more publishers are going for the iBook ePub format. Another reason is that students (presumably high school or college) prefer the iPad to the Kindle.

Limited platforms
The problems with this argument have to do with book distribution and book format. First, the iPad versus Kindle argument is invalid here. Here is the IBT:

"Our research with students indicates that they would rather have books on iPad vs. Kindle," Chowdhry wrote in a note to clients.
Of course they would, since they could take Angry Birds breaks while studying. The twist is that the iPad offers Kindle books, too, so students preferring the iPad has little to no reflection on whose e-books they're reading.

And Apple's issue is that it is genuinely invested in the hardware. While Kindle books are available for nearly every mobile device, iBooks only work on Apple's three iOS platforms: iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. Apple could make its books available on other platforms, but it's too interested in keeping the customers within its walled garden. This in itself will limit growth.

May be too late for innovation
Second, the iPad book growth has been split between the iBooks and stand-alone apps -- and the iPad innovation is happening off the iBookstore. The most notable iPad book releases this year were apps: Al Gore's interactive environmental book Our Choice and Cognito Comics's beautiful animated graphic novel Operation Ajax. The interesting, dynamic presentations show what was supposed to be the biggest advantages of using iBooks.

Why weren't these on the iBookstore? I suspect that iBooks couldn't handle the complex animations because iBooks hasn't been a priority for Apple. The last iBook update in June brought syncing bookmarks and better software stability. In other words, it brought squat.

Book publishers have been innovating on the iPad since Alice came out at launch -- but it is happening well outside of Apple's iBook confines. We can expect companies like Our Choice's Push Pop Press to take their apps to other tablets and deflate any little luster iBooks may have.