Amazon got the ball rolling with the Kindle after years of stagnation in the market. Apple is going toe to toe with them with the launch of the iBookstore. So when I have an iPad in hand I’m going to be faced with a choice, use Apple’s iBooks solution, or stick with Amazon’s Kindle platform.


The iPad will be coming out in just a few days. There’s a good chance that shortly thereafter, as soon as 3G versions are available in stores, I will have my hands on Apple’s newest product. One of the principal reasons that I will be purchasing the iPad is to be my e-book reader. I have been an avid reader my entire life, and as something of a technologist as well, I have been waiting for e-books for as long as I can remember.

Amazon, obviously, got the ball really rolling with the Kindle after years of stagnation in the market. Apple is going toe to toe with them with the launch of the iBookstore. So when I have an iPad in hand I’m going to be faced with a choice, use Apple’s iBooks solution, or stick with Amazon’s Kindle platform.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since the iPad was announced, going back and forth on the issue. On the one hand I have already made an investment in Amazon’s e-book ecosystem, having purchased about 30 books to read on the Kindle app on my iPhone. That’s about $300 invested, but even if I switch to Apple’s iBooks app I can always have the Kindle app sitting next to it on my iPad if I want to read one of those titles. The iBookstore, however, offers several benefits over the Kindle app:

  • The ability to purchase books from within the app
  • The ability to add any open ePub format book to iTunes and sync it over
  • The rumored 30,0000 public domain books that will be available

Given these benefits it might seem like a slam dunk to move over to iBooks, but I’ve decided against it, for one simple reason: cross-platform compatibility.

For me, books are a long-term investment. If I like a book I’m going to read it two, five or even 10 times, and some of my favorite books from my teenage years I’ve read so many times I can’t even remember how many times I’ve picked them up. Books, including e-books, I buy today aren’t something that I’ll one and done like a television episode or even a movie — these are things that I’ll want to be able to access in 10 or 20 years. Given that, it’s important for me to pick an e-book platform that I know will be able to follow me as my tastes and needs for hardware change. What happens if I decide in five years that I don’t want to use Apple products anymore? If I invest heavily into the iBoookstore those books will be lost to me, but with the Kindle there’s a good chance that I’ll be able to read those books on a future Android device, or a Windows tablet or something we don’t even know of today but that I might be using.

It’s hard for me, as an Apple fanboy, to consider the possibility that Apple may not be able to meet my computing needs in the future. But I care more about books than I do about Apple and so I need to be honest with myself about this. When push comes to shove, it’s more important for me to have my books than it is for me to have Apple’s products, and that’s never going to change. So when the iPad comes out and I have one in my hands I’ll be reading my books in the Kindle app.

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  1. The problem with your argument is that Apple will support an open EPub format while any books bought from amazon are subject to their DRM. AFAIK the iBookstore won’t have any limitations on DRM which will allow you to take your books on any device that supports ePub and not just apple products but with the kindle you have to use the kindle app or a kindle device so if Amazon ever decided to stop making the kindle or the App you’ll be stuck like customers of MS’s music store from a few years ago.

    1. Apple will support EPub, but it’s likely that the format will still be tied to Fairplay DRM. EPub was actually designed to support DRM, so it’s no better in that respect than Amazon’s Kindle format.

    2. John,
      Alfredo’s totally correct there. The ‘open ePub’ thing is misunderstood. Apple IS applying Fairplay DRM to their iBook files. It’s proprietary.

      Open ePub without the DRM add-on is almost always for public-domain books or ‘classics’ (free everywhere).

      Those using the Adobe Digital Edition licensing on the ePubs will be able to read SOME of the files with that bought from other stores. Currently the Nook can read Sony files but the Sony can’t read Nook files.

      Steve Jobs is not Adobe-friendly so didn’t use the less closed DRM.

  2. I would have agreed with your assessment of the cross-platform reasons maybe even 6 months ago, because I did the same thing with my music, always making sure I had that mp3 version in case I decided I didn’t want to go with an apple device.

    I did that for the better part of 5-7 years and finally decided I probably never will listen to a serious amount of music on a non-apple product, but, even if I do, I can always convert an AAC or Apple Lossless (which is what I use for the most part) back into an mp3 if I want. Even if I move away from a mac to a pc or something else, and I think I will always have the ability to convert common file types.

    This hold true for the ebook platform as well. PDF’s are pretty standard and we “should” always be able to convert from one file format to another, besides, I tried my best to read from a Kindle and hated it :)

    1. Scott,

      Just to clarify, I won’t be reading from a Kindle, I’ll be reading my books on an iPhone/iPad, just using the Kindle application.

  3. I think a big advantage the Kindle has over the iPad is the e-ink technology. No it does not have flashy color or vivid graphics, but it is so easy on the eyes. Reading for hours on end on an iPad (or any monitor) will cause fatigue; on the Kindle it is a very natural experience.

    Even though I have my iPad on order, it will be used mostly as a laptop replacement. There are enough apps that can satisfy my on-the-go needs and whatever is crucial can be handled on the desktop later. The Kindle (for now) will also tag along as a reader.

    I do have a question though about DRM and e-books. What guarantee do we have that ANY company (Amazon, Apple, Sony) will keep making their readers and/or will be compatible with current e-book formats? What if Amazon stops making their readers and does not open their proprietary format to other readers? I guess what I am saying here is that I don’t see any commitment that the investment being made (in your case $300) is protected and “future proof.” I would love to believe these 3 companies will be around for the next 20 years and supporting current e-book formats, but can anyone really be sure?

    1. The eye strain is only caused by having the backlight turned up too bright. Stanza has the ability to turn the brightness down – I doubt the iBook application will be any different.

      I’d prefer the higher contrast of an LCD screen over eInk.

      I do agree with your statement about DRM – DRM is DRM, regardless of whose flavour it is. Just because Amazon’s is “less closed” (lol?) than Apple’s doesn’t make it better.

      I’ll be buying an iPad when my current MacBook dies, since it does everything that I currently use my MacBook for. I’m expecting my MacBook will last until at least v2.1 of the iPad hardware is out though.

  4. Alfredo, I think you may have mixed up your argument. It is Amazon’s Kindle books that are proprietary. Given Amazon’s affords to try to establish its presence on the iPad and the OS X platforms means that Amazon is realizing that their business is in selling books and not the hardware that consumes them.

    They realize that Apple has the expertise of industrial design and they do not, case in point the Kindle. As a result the long term viability of the Kindle platform and its DRM’d books is uncertain with the pending release of the iBookstore. Additionally the number of large publishers preferring the iBookstore business arrangement over Amazon’s. It is very likely Amazon will too transform its eBook format to ePub. A standard ebook format that is well established.

    There are also several ePub readers and managers on both Macintosh and Windows platform, which will be able to access these ebooks purchased from the iBookstore.

    1. Fabio “Sooner” Macedo Vinko Wednesday, March 31, 2010

      As explained above by Alfredo and Andrys, it’s you (and most of the media, unfortunately) which are mixing things up. The iBookstore will feature DRM so it doesn’t matter if the books are in an open format or not. You will only be able to synch those books on Apple devices.

      In the meantime, Amazon also uses a format that used to be open (their files are a variation of Mobipocket ones) with DRM, but at least it provides for reading apps in a number of different platforms: PC, Blackberry, iPhone, and soon tablets (including the very iPad). Also, their books are generally cheaper.

      Right now, there’s simply no reason whatsoever to use the iBookstore save for the convenience of it coming pre-installed.

      1. Actually, iBookstore will NOT come pre-installed. You have to download the app. So, there is plenty of choice here. You can use Kindle on the iPad (assuming Apple approves it) or iBookstore or both.

        However, the author’s point remains valid. If using the iBookstore, you might not be able to read these in the future if you’re not using an Apple product.

  5. Patrick Santana Wednesday, March 31, 2010

    with the Kindle there’s a good chance that I’ll be able to read those
    books on a future Android device, or a Windows tablet or something
    we don’t even know of today but that I might be using.

    I don’t think it is a good assumption. You should decide looking another variables, not something like “there’s a good chance that ….”

  6. Sorry, but Amazon vs Apple.. I take Apple. They dominate all other forms of electronic media distribution. Why would you think when they get into the ebook market, that they won’t compete well?

  7. Phillip Howell Wednesday, March 31, 2010

    If you care about being able to read these books in 10-20 years, don’t buy them in electronic format.

    Amazon’s format is proprietary and DRM’d. EPub is an open format, but Apple will be saddling it with FairPlay (per http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2010/02/apple-ibooks-drm-fairplay.html). (Though this is not true for all publishers.)

    If the DRM stays on these things, you will eventually not be able to read the thing you bought, regardless of your chosen vendor. (Though I think that, with the crazy ubiquity of FairPlay, you’ll actually probably have a longer time with your Apple books.)


  8. “… there’s a good chance that I’ll be able to read those books on a future Android device, or a Windows tablet or something we don’t even know of today but that I might be using.”

    Really? Based on what?

    1. Based on the fact that Amazon has a sated cross-platform strategy, with readers for Mac, Windows and iPhone already out and announcements that they will have readers for Android and iPad in the future.

      1. My point was more focused on the fact that Amazon may change their mind in the future, based on market demand and profitability.

        Think about what happened w/ Orwell’s 1984 last year, or Walmart’s music store.

        If Amazon loses the right to sell the books, Mr. Bezos has said he’ll never pull a book off of a Kindle again, but I’m skeptical. I’m confident he meant it, but well-intentions don’t stand up in court.

        If Amazon chooses to shut down their ebook store and turns off the DRM servers, will Kindle-DRM’ed books still be readable?

        I’m not interested in defending Apple’s point; their store may have the same limitations.

        DRM-free epubs would be nice, but we’ll have to wait a few days & see.

      2. Macdork,
        Yes, the Kindle books stay readable on a Kindle, as they don’t depend on the server whatsoever. The use of the server is to log last page read or to back up annotations if you want to a special prive, password-protected page for your book annotations, readable in location/page order by book, all on one page for each.

        The DRM uses the Kindle device ID registered to display the file. On the books I care to read again, I make sure I have a copy on my PC as well, for reading with the Kindle App, which doesn’t need the servers except to pull down a book you bought but ‘deleted’ previously and can re-download at no cost.

        While current Kindle books can be read on Blackberrys, iDevices, PC’s and Macs now, iBooks are currently readable only on the iPad.

  9. I plan on loading up as many e-readers with or without stores as I can and then letting them compete. I’ll take the best price I can get.

    As for the canard of backlighting and eyestrain, I’ve never had it, so I’m not worried. Some people do but I suspect it’s not most.

    1. Actually, it’s not the refresh rate that bothers people since most have theirs at 75 rather than 60 — it’s the light shining right into your eyes as you read the text against whiter background. On a larger LCD type screen when trying to read sequential info (rather than bouncing around on short web articles which I can do all day and is far less wearing on the eye due to lack of much eye movement with books) in longer-sessions, you’ll feel a difference.

      Also, the e-ink readers are great for reading outdoors, but the LCD ones aren’t.

  10. @ Scott: The thing about reading on a monitor causing eyestrain is actually a bit of a myth. LCDs don’t cause eyestrain, at least no more than an eInk screen or even a paperback book does. Eyestrain is caused by reading in insufficient light, flickering light, or reading for too long in any environment. The “Monitors cause eyestrain” thing got started in the very early computer days when the refresh rates were low and trying to read on the flickering CRT tube was a real problem. This hasn’t ben the case for many years although the perception lingers on as a sort of popular misconception or myth.

    1. Actually, reading paper books is bad for the eyes anyway. I remember articles MANY years ago how your vision suffered due to reading because your eyes focus on such a narrow field and depth when reading. Avid readers begin to lose their range of vision.

      In fact, I remember that some people were suggesting each page of a book should have a different patterned border that would keep the eyes working and looking at different things. Obviously, those plans never got mainstream traction.

      So, being a bookwork might be bad for your eyes in general no matter what device (paper or electronic) you use.

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