Somewhat obscured in the hubbub about Google announcing Thursday a mobile version of its public-domain book library was a separate announcement that may be much bigger: an Amazon spokeman told the New York Times that the company is working on a way to make books formatted for its Kindle e-book reader available “on a range on mobile phones.”
Perhaps Amazon will let slip more details about this concept at the company’s media event Monday in New York, in which it’s expected to announce the second-generation of its Kindle hardware. It’s certainly an exciting prospect for those of us who have imagined Kindle books appearing on the iPhone. Although the Kindle’s e-ink screen undoubtedly makes for a more comfortable reading experience, the iPhone has some advantages of its own—including the fact that millions of people already own one.
“Some people have room for dedicated devices like Kindles, digital cameras, and iPods,” analyst and Mobile Devices Today blogger Michael Gartenberg told me today. “But for others, there’s an absolute convenience factor just associated with carrying one device instead of a multitude.”
Gartenberg’s take—and one I agree with—is that while reading a book on an iPhone might not be the absolute best experience, it “crosses the threshold of ‘Good Enough.’” And it’s better than Kindle in some ways, including the ability to use it one-handed and in cramped conditions. Plus, it fits in your pocket.
This move is also a great sign that Amazon sees its Kindle hardware not as the end-all, be-all of e-books, but as part of a larger ecosystem that includes Kindle-compatible book readers on other devices. “It’s a smart move on Amazon’s part,” Gartenberg said. “They absolutely should look at devices like the iPhone and the G1 as complimentary to the stuff they’re doing with the dedicated Kindle.”
As Gartenberg points out, the $359 Kindle reader may be great for heavy travelers, since you can load a huge number of books into a single, small device, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense for a broad audience. Adding mobile phones to the party can broaden the appeal of the entire e-book category. (As someone who has spent this week toting around a hardcover novel that weighs nearly as much as my laptop, I can see the benefits.)
Certainly the book-reading experience on the iPhone is better than what one might expect. As Ars Technica’s John Siracusa pointed out this week in his excellent e-book analysis, the App store has provided us with an excellent public-domain book reader, Classics ( ), as well as two good, flexible e-book readers in eReader and Stanza.
But although eReader and Stanza do offer some books for purchase, they don’t have the catalog or the clout of Amazon. If Amazon does a mobile version of Kindle right—and here’s hoping an iPhone app version is the first out of the gate—it could be a huge step toward changing the way many of us read books.