Amazon releasing a Kindle iPhone app shortly after the introduction of the Kindle 2 was a brilliant move. It seemed to show that the emphasis was on the platform, not just one device. And that it was interested in making its customers happy. Unfortunately, to use the Kindle iPhone app, you still basically had to set your iPhone down and buy books on either your Kindle or the Amazon website. Sure, you could browse to it from the Safari browser on the iPhone, but the experience was laborious to say the least. Today, Amazon changed that a bit, and it may be an indication of where it’s going.
Now, when you click on the “Get Books” icon in the iPhone app, you’re taken to a page that has a very iPhone-friendly Kindle book browser. From here you can search the over 280,000 Kindle books or browse by things like category, New York Times Best Sellers or books recommended for you. Unfortunately, clicking on any of these items kicks you out of the iPhone app and into Safari, where you actually do your surfing/purchasing (again, in this new iPhone-friendly look). That simply appears to be a limitation of the Kindle iPhone app itself (which wasn’t updated, just the look of the Kindle iPhone website was), and it seems likely that Amazon will correct that soon so you can browse and buy right from within the app.
Such an update, along with the addition of the Stanza library of eBooks, would make the Kindle iPhone app a powerful one. It would also negate the desire of some people to actually go out and buy a Kindle, because the process would be just about as easy over an iPhone. Before everyone jumps on that, I realize the Kindle is a much better device for reading a book. I own a Kindle, it’s brilliant. But that doesn’t change two things: 1) It’s way too expensive (and the upcoming DX is even more ridiculously expensive) and 2) The Kindle itself is simply a hold-over device.
What I mean by that is that the Kindle as a product is not going to survive. It simply doesn’t make sense to carry around another piece of hardware that is used for basically one small thing (reading eBooks). Instead, it makes sense to carry around either a tablet computer that also has this functionality, or something like the iPhone. Given the success we’re seeing of eBooks on the iPhone platform, it should be clear that despite the smaller screen that can be hard on the eyes, people are very open to the idea of reading content on it. And the iPhone screen will get better for reading books, and tablet computers/netbook will come along with the functionality. The Kindle as a device is simply not a long term play as it stands right now. But the Kindle as a store, is.
And that’s what this seemingly small update to the Kindle web browsing interface on the iPhone is about. But there’s a very big twist coming down the road shortly. When the iPhone 3.0 software launches this summer, it will include the ability to do in-app purchases. You might think this would be a very obvious choice for Amazon to implement within the Kindle app to make purchasing even easier. But, with in-app purchases, Apple will be taking a 30% cut, just as it does for regular app purchases. You can bet that Amazon is not thrilled with that idea. I’d expect them to either try and cut some kind of better deal with Apple, or to stick with the web buying version. But would Apple be okay with that? And how does it’s rumored upcoming tablet device play into all this? Intrigue in the eBook world.