Amazon introduced their Kindle book support for the iPhone / Touch today. Allowing you to purchase and read any of their 250,000 (currently) books originally created for their Kindle (2.0 introduced a few weeks ago) electronic ink book reader. There is of course pros and cons to that… if you are a serious book reader, you will enjoy the larger screen of the actual Kindle device. While the iPhone / Touch have smaller screens, causing the text to format poorly, you do have full color available where needed.
Amazon isn’t the first and only book reader for the iPhone, there are many available with a variety of features and ranging from Free to 14.95 for the reader only. Also, do not confuse book reader apps with document reader / manager applications.
I will hit on a few of the bigger names today (based on number or downloads and support). In no particular order, I will start with the Amazon Kindle iPhone app since it is most likely what brought you here today. When looking for this application in the iTunes App Store, you will find a lot of “Amazon” applications for searching and buying, you want the “Kindle” version which is their reader.
The Amazon Kindle app is among the simplest of interfaces in the group. It’s strengths are in what is going on behind the scenes, what Amazon calls “Whisper”. The book text presentation is full justification black text on white background, providing methods to see your progress, swipe your finger to change pages, slider to jump to another page and bookmarking. Whisper watches what page your on and tracks so if you have the book on other devices your ending spot will be remembered across all of them. Archiving is also supported with Amazon keeping track of your purchases so you do not loose your books if you remover them from your device. Finally is the ability to buy and load books, which Amazon makes as easy as possible. This interface is locked to only view Amazon distributed books. Purchasing books is done through Safari on the device or any Web browser on your desktop. The next time you launch the Amazon Kindle iPhone app, all books are synced, installing new purchases. Just discovered that this app does not allow you to read a book in landscape (wide). True this isn’t how you actually read a paper book but then this is an electronic screen that should add features not take them away. Will review the rest of the readers again to see if any will allow this view.
ShortCovers: Book reader supported by a Web site full of books. The device interface is very nice for browsing through their library, your library as well text is very readable. A feature I liked was the service allows you to download the first six pages of any book your interested in for a quick look. Like the Kindle option, this app requires you use a Web page interface to buy books. A negative I found was that the app shows you available books but then doesn’t link directly to books by launching a browser page. Instead, you have to then launch your browser to find the book again to purchase. An extra level of effort after you just downloaded a couple pages and decided to buy a book while in the app. The developers of the iPhone / Touch app side of ShortCovers did a very nice job of following the Apple UI rules, everything works exactly as you would expect them to.
Stanza: This is the first reader in this run through that supports many different kinds of eBook layouts. The ShortCovers and Kindle apps only support books supplied by their parent company. Stanza opens up the world to load books from many different sources. This increases the number of books available to you to ready quite a bit, but I found that many of the major titles locked themselves to Amazon and didn’t distribute through other eBook layouts. Stanza offers a nice level of Apple requested UI. Like ShortCovers, all of the buttons work as you expect, with the addition of the cover art sweep as you would expect in iTunes.
Archiving is not supported like you have with the major company offerings, but the UI makes it much easier to sweep through a large library of books. Also, the ability to divide down into categories is handy when you have books for pleasure, work, school, etc…
FictionWise: FictionWise supports their reader with a site with a very large selection of books. It was the first true book reader I used back in my Palm OS days. All of my favorites from the Palm are still available to me through a more robust interface. The book cover art with the opening page is a nice feature shared with ShortCovers. A feature that came along from the Palm days is the ability to adjust the background and text colors. I do not use this service much but it gets a lot of attention around the office. That might be because the feature is something different. Except for my dad who has limited sight, adjusting the colors really assists his ability to read eBooks that used to cause a lot of strain.
Classics: This reader is limited to a catalog of free (out of copyright) books such as Alice in Wonderland, and Poe. There are quite a few book reader apps that have this same catalog of books, where Classics shines is in it’s User Interface.
You start with a bookshelf layout (very nice visual, a bit more difficult to scroll through using a finger interface) that is used in several popular desktop apps.. Unlike other book reader apps outlined above, this developer took more time to create page turning graphics and a realistic bookmark.