Cell Phones for Summer Reading


You might check news headlines on your cell phone, via Google News or Yahoo Go. Maybe you’ve even gone as far as used a mobile RSS reader. But reading for fun on a phone is a slightly bigger leap — that little screen doesn’t really induce reading relaxation, the way a trashy paperback romance novel does on the beach.

Oh well, startups and publishing companies are still trying to make it fit. Mobile comics and and short form novels have been gaining popularity in Japan, geared toward commuters and school kids. Deep Love is a famous Japanese mobile novel that found some success. Startups in the U.S. and other markets are trying to recreate that success with their own ideas. Here’s a few options:

1). Wattpad: The Toronto-based company founded in 2006, went out of beta on Tuesday, and offers a mobile client for reading and sharing user-generated stories on mobile phones. Once you download the client you can also download stories to your phone, and read them when offline. I downloaded the Art of Deception, by Kevin Mitnick, which was 541 pages and presented in long scroll-down text — damn dawg, I should have started with something a lot simpler. The company says it has 25,000 stories that users have entered.

2). Moka: Moka also launched its mBooks service today which sends text-message or email bits of books to phones. The messages are 160 characters and are delivered on a planned daily schedule. The titles are supposed to be “inspirational” like The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Alcoholics Anonymous, or The Millionaires Course — though, most of them are just plain bad (discloser, I am no book critic). Titles like The Millionaires Course cost a whopping $7.95 for the series of quotes.

3 ). TokyoPop Manga Reader: A lot more fun than being inspired is downloading TokypPop’s Mobile Manga Reader application. It’s been around for awhile and is powered by UIEvolution (the folks behind the MySpace mobile app). It costs $3.99 per month and I bought it off of Sprint’s deck. The rich client slides the pages across the screen, comic-style, and it’s actually fun to read for awhile. The content skews young and even the 3G experience is a tad slow, but worth it.

4). eReader (owned by Motricity) or Mobipocket (owned by Amazon): The experience of services like these is largely based on taking the desktop digital book experience mobile. You download desktop-based software and software for your smart phone and can read the digital books on the format you choose. It takes a decent amount of time and patience to set up, and it isn’t really geared towards mobile access and search, and it isn’t available for average phones. Eh.

5). ICUE: The London-based company, backed by Benchmark Capital, offers a mobile reading service with a method of showing words on the screen one at a time or in phrases. Users can download the application and buy books via the WAP site of via key words sent to their short code 64888. I don’t have a compatible phone so I couldn’t try out the service. The startup is also more project than booming business, and the site says founder Marc Lewis plans to channel all of the profits into “a new trust to help children and adults improve their reading skills.”



ICUE is a booming business (over 90% of the leading publishers now signed to exclusive mobile distribution deals in the UK). It’s just not my main business and my raising literacy standards through technology is something I wanted to contribute to.

ICUE was a Red Herring 100 company and is approaching profitability.



You’d rather try Nokia N800 with fbreader application – you will stop whining about small-screen phones in US for next several years: N800 is perfect book-reading experience.

Om Malik


some of the new phones – N73 and N95 for example and Samsung M610 are pretty darn good and have nice hefty screens. Same for Blackberry 8800 and new Windows Mobile devices.

But still, you got a point – mobile needs mobile thinking, not some some retrofitted web content.


We still need better phone screens sizes and rez in the USA to make this take off. Not to mention the content.

Also the mentality of moving web designed content to mobile has to change.

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