The iPad May Kill the Kindle, But Amazon Could Still Come Out Ahead: The Only Comparison You Need to Read

4/30/10Follow @wroush

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turning the pages of a real book. In a bit of utterly useless but fun embellishment, iBooks even simulates a curling page as you drag your finger from right to left. All that’s missing is the fluttery paper sound.

With a color screen, you can also do cool things like changing the background and text shades. (I particularly like the “sepia” setting on the Kindle iPad app.) I admit that I originally thought the iPad’s big color screen wouldn’t make much of a difference when it comes to relatively static content like text. I was wrong—it’s a game changer.

2. The Books.

In the race to build a big catalog of e-books, Amazon still has a big lead on Apple. There are almost half a million titles available for the Kindle, compared to a reported 60,000 for iBooks at launch. But here’s the thing: The iPad is also a Kindle. In a remarkable act of self-cannibalization—or maybe it’s just a case of if-you-can’t-beat-em-join-em—Amazon has built a free Kindle app for the iPad that lets iPad owners read any Kindle edition that Amazon sells.

On the iPad, you can shop for titles at Amazon’s website using the device’s built-in Safari browser. All the books you buy go into your Kindle archive, from whence they can be downloaded to any Kindle-ready device, meaning an iPhone, an iPad, or an actual Kindle. The “WhisperSync” feature built into the Kindle app means you can switch between these devices, and always pick up right where you left off.

Amazon's Kindle app for the iPadBecause I have so many Kindle editions stacking up that I haven’t finished reading yet, I haven’t bought any iBooks titles so far—and I don’t really plan to. Why would I, when Amazon is giving me the best of both worlds? In fact, I think I’ll probably keep buying most or all of my e-books from Amazon, and reading them on whatever device is most handy.

I have a philosophical as well as a practical reason for this policy. As I explained in a February column, Apple is using an “agency” model for iBooks under which publishers are, in theory, free to slap higher prices on iBooks editions than Amazon long imposed for Kindle editions. In practice, publishers seem to be charging the same prices so far on both platforms: for example, both the Kindle version and the iBooks version of A River in the Sky, a New York Times bestseller by Elizabeth Peters, go for $12.99, and I haven’t been able to find any examples of big price differences this week. But as articles by Ken Auletta and other analysts have detailed, publishers eager to get around Amazon’s former $9.99 e-book price ceiling have been gleeful about the Apple agency model, and may simply be waiting for the right moment to jack up the prices on iBooks titles. My own opinion is that e-books shouldn’t cost much more than $9.99, so I’m avoiding iBooks on principle until this whole thing settles out.

3. The Other Apps.

If you don’t like Apple’s iBooks app, you can get e-books for your iPad from Lexcycle or Kobo or Amazon or dozens of other distributors who have published iPad apps. That’s because the iPad is a multipurpose device—a literal blank slate, built specifically to support a huge range of software for learning, entertainment, and productivity.

The Kindle, on the other hand, is a single-purpose device, built specifically for reading e-books—and only e-books purchased from Amazon. If you don’t like Amazon, there isn’t much reason to own a Kindle. Despite the drone of criticism from the digerati over the supposedly closed nature of the iPad/iPhone ecosystem, and despite Amazon’s plans for allowing third-party apps on the Kindle, its hardware is far more closed and less versatile than Apple’s.

A case in point: Vook. A couple of months ago I reviewed two iPhone apps from the Emeryville, CA-based startup—a Sherlock Holmes double-header enhanced with clips filmed in Holmes’s native London, and Gary Vaynerchuck’s Crush It!, a motivational business title spiced up with the hyper-extroverted wine entrepreneur’s videos. Now Vook has 32 titles for the iPad, including an amazing one called Best of Times; it’s a collection of 14 experimental videos created by Brooklyn filmmaker and New York Times blogger Jeff Scher, framed as an e-book, with commentary by the filmmaker about … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/wroush/ Wade Roush

    Coincidentally, Steve Haber, the president of Sony’s Digital Reading business, published a piece yesterday at Huffington Post on “Why the iPad Won’t Kill eReaders.” Echoing Scott Jacobson (the ex-Amazon exec), Haber says that the iPad “may be really good for short form reading — newspapers, email even a book here and there, but that’s only in-between using the device for all the other things it can do. eReader owners are a different crowd. They’re book aficionados, just as digital camera owners are photo aficionados.”

    I think Haber and Jacobson are right that there is a segment of the market—the exact segment that was attracted to the Sony and Amazon devices—who are most interested in long-form reading. My point is that if a device came along that was great for long-form reading (which the iPad is, despite dismissals like Haber’s) and could do everything else that these same book aficionados no doubt need to do in the course of their day, there’d be no requirement to own a dedicated e-book device. That’s why I think the iPad will drastically cut into the market for the Daily Edition, the Kindle, and the Nook. I don’t think there are very many readers these days who just need to read books, and don’t need to check their e-mail or the weather or make shopping lists.

    By the way, I published a long interview with Haber back in October 2009.

  • Scott

    Wade, I think you missed the point about screens… its not color or size, it’s back-lit vs reflective. The back-lit screen of the iPad will tire one’s eyes much faster than the Kindle’s reflective E-ink screen.
    Also using a back-lit screen close to bedtime can play games with your sleep cycle:

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2010/04/ipad-kindle-ebook-sleep.html

  • David L

    Scott, I’m with you. Like many other readers I spend much of our workday looking at a computer monitor, and the idea of going home and reading something on a back-lit screen makes me want to just go to sleep instead. The kindle’s electrophoretic screen, on the other hand, is almost indistinguishable from paper and is SO pleasant to read.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/wroush/ Wade Roush

    @Scott, @David L,

    Thanks for your comments. Personally I don’t buy the notion that backlit LCD screens cause excessive eye strain. If that were true, most knowledge workers—who, if they are anything like me, spend 8-12 hours a day staring at a laptop screen or desktop monitor—would be walking around with constant migraines. And nobody seemed too concerned about this issue with the first-generation e-book devices, the Rocket eBook and Softbook Reader, circa 1998-2002, which had backlit LCD screens.

    The evidence about backlit screens interfering with melatonin levels and sleep patterns seems sketchy at best. There is preliminary evidence that iPad usage actually peaks around 11 p.m., which says to me that people love using their iPads in bed. And if you’re really worried about the screen glow, you can simply turn down the iPad’s brightness, either from the main settings panel or from within the iBooks and Kindle apps.

    It’s certainly true that the e-paper screens are more legible than LCD screens in bright light, especially outdoors. That’s one advantage I didn’t list here.

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  • http://7fff.com John

    This bit: “The iPad’s screen is obviously larger than the Kindle’s—45 square inches for Apple’s gadget, compared to 17 square inches for Amazon’s”:

    Wouldn’t it be a bit more fair to compare the screen real estate of the iPad with the Kindle DX (9.7″ diagonal — some 44 square inches)?

    Seriously.

    The regular Kindle’s form factor is, in fact, so small that the comparison with the iPad is really about devices designed for genuinely different relationships between the reader and the device. You really can hold the small Kindle in one hand. One could easily argue that this size difference is in favor of the Kindle for certain modes of reading.

  • http://www.buzzingup.com Susan

    As you have seen this did not happen in last few months and its not possible either because both the products belong to different categories. Check this video in which amazon shows the difference between both.

    http://www.buzzingup.com/2010/09/ebook-reader-war-heating-up-kindle-vs-ipad-advertisement-video/