This morning Amazon introduced yet another Kindle app – this time for the Android platform – to add to existing iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, Mac and PC versions. Far from being sidelined because its reliance on the e-ink Kindle reader, Amazon has now planted its big foot in all camps. Apple's iBookStore will be left trailing, despite iBooks' wow factor and reported ease of use, unless purchased books can be made portable and can be synchronised across platforms.
Amazon's big strength lies in WhisperSync, the seamless syncing of books, bookmarks and place-holders among all platforms. If you buy a book from Amazon you can read a chapter on up to seven different devices and your place will never be lost. What's more, that Amazon purchase is as future-proof as you can hope for. If you decide to change devices after a year there is a very strong possibility that all your books can be viewed on that new device. With Apple's iBookStore you are stuck in a micro ebook economy. At the moment iBooks can be read only on the iPad; there isn't even an iPhone version. And it is most unlikely that there will ever be versions for BlackBerrys or Androids.
Even the old e-ink Kindle reader is not dead by any means. Amazon's original success was based on e-ink technology, which still has many adherents such as my fellow blogger Tony Cole, would argue that e-ink is far superior for book reading. Anyone buying an Amazon book has ultimate flexibility and isn't condemned to perpetual Appledom. See this interesting article in MacWorld.
This flexibility of platform cannot be underestimated as a selling point. Even now, after six weeks on the market, it is clear that the iPad isn't the universal book reader it was supposed to be. It is just too big. Compared with the Kindle or Sony Reader, the iPad is the big, heavy hardback up against a lightweight paperback. And I know which I prefer to have in my pocket on days out.
Whatever the pros and cons of backlit screens versus e-ink, form factor and ease of use are the major factors. That's why the constant book-in-the-pocket for me in my iPhone, not my iPad. Sure, it's more pleasant to read on the bigger screen, but the iPhone ain't half bad. It's always there in my pocket, and, thanks to WhisperSync, the page I was last reading at home on the iPad is there as soon as I open up the Kindle app. It is just so convenient.