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First Look: Amazon Kindle for iPhone

kindleThat sound you heard across the Internet late Tuesday night was every tech blogger on the planet clicking on iTunes to download the new Kindle for iPhone app. This free app lets you read any of the hundreds of thousands of books that are available in Amazon’s Kindle Store. The Kindle for iPhone boasts the following features…

  • Buy a Kindle book from your Mac, PC, or iPhone using a web browser and wirelessly transfer the books to your iPhone
  • Read first chapters of any book for free before you buy
  • Download the Kindle books you already own for free — they are automatically backed up on Amazon.com
  • Adjust the text size, add bookmarks, and view the annotations you created on your Kindle device

greetscreenOnce you launch the app, you are greeted by a setup screen that asks you to log in to your Amazon (s amzn) account. Once you tap in your username/email and password, you are met by an empty bookshelf just begging you to buy some books from the Kindle Store. You can’t buy books directly from the app, but you can buy books on Amazon’s site by using a web browser on your Mac or PC, or even on the iPhone.

The online store has not been optimized for the iPhone like some other sections of Amazon.com, but using pinch and zoom, you can navigate around the page reasonably well. You will probably have a better experience on a full desktop browser, but I am hoping for a future iPhone web app to make the browsing and purchasing of e-books a little better on the iPhone itself.

kindlestoreIt appears that you can only read e-books on the iPhone, at least for now. When browsing newspapers, blogs, and magazines, the Amazon web site says that you can sync to your Kindle or iPhone, but it only actually shows your registered iPhone when browsing books. I hope this will get fixed eventually so that all Kindle content will be accessible on the iPhone as well as the Kindle itself.

If you have a Kindle, your books will sync to your iPhone automatically. Even better, if you have set bookmarks or made annotations, those items will sync to the iPhone app as well. I tried setting some bookmarks in a book I purchased at Amazon.com (“Coraline,” by Neil Gaiman, if you were curious) which worked great. I could not find a way to delete the bookmark though — I guess we should expect 1.0.1 sometime later this week.

To remove content from the iPhone app, you simply use the slide-to-delete gesture like you do in the mail or SMS apps.

kindlecontrolsThe reading experience is pretty smooth. Coraline opened to the first page of the book when first launched and I could swipe forward to keep reading, swipe back to get into the table of contents, or use the controls by tapping on the screen. Available controls include a slider to jump directly to any page in the book and buttons to add a new bookmark, view existing bookmarks, change the font size, and retrieve the furthest read page (from any device that Amazon knows about — Kindle or iPhone).

The app is responsive and quick, and swiping pages is natural enough where I did not feel the app was getting in the way of the book. I did notice the narrow width though. As a fast reader, I really wanted to be able to scan longer lines at once. Turning the iPhone horizontal does not change the view, unfortunately — it is stuck in vertical mode, which does look more like a book (or a Kindle) but might make for slower reading for some.

Now that I’ve had a chance to read a chapter of a book on my iPhone, I am definitely intrigued by the whole concept, even if I am not sure that I am sold on the Kindle app for the iPhone. Purchasing books is quick and easy, just like iTunes for books. Reading is nice but a little cramped on the iPhone. Honestly, I found myself wishing I had a bigger screen, maybe something just like a Kindle 2 device — which is probably exactly what Amazon wanted me to feel.

33 Responses to “First Look: Amazon Kindle for iPhone”

  1. I see this move of Kindle apps on non-Kindle hardware much like Apple opening up the iPod to windows users back in the day (which I’m sure resulted in more than a few “switchers”). This will give people exposure to the functionality of an eReader done right, and then people will hunger for the proper hardware platform; thus more Kindle sales.

  2. @moritui, yeah I was using a US iTunes account for a while so I could download and use the Last.FM iPhone app – however having apps from multiple iTune store accounts messes up the automatic App Upgrade detection and just caused me problems. Annoying. :(

  3. Shame there is no landscape mode. I see this more of a stop-gap for reading while waiting in line, or for a meeting to start. Funny how last week I was totally OK with just reading on the iPhone (Stanza) – now I’d much rather read on the Kindle. Overall a better experience.

  4. mikej165

    The lack of newspaper and magazine content is annoying, but I’m thankful to Amazon for making this available. What I’d really like to see is a desktop application that I could use to view my purchased Kindle content on my Mac, not necessarily for heavy duty reading, mind you, but for reference purposes. When viewing graphics the Kindle screen falls short of usable, and a lot of the content I’ve purchased has screen shots.

  5. I thought overall it worked pretty well. I wish it had more control over the display of pages like Stanza or eReader. My biggest gripe is the justified text. On such a narrow screen I think it really needs to be ragged right.

    I also agree Amazon will need to build-in an easier way to order books from the app. All things considered, however, it’s not a bad 1.0 release.

  6. It’s a nice little app, and it let me pick up right where I left off reading on my kindle. I like the concept.

    Unfortunately, it only downloaded the books I had bought from the Amazon store. Not books I loaded to my Kindle through other means (email or downloading directly from the web). It also didn’t download my new york times kindle subscription. So that’s a little unfortunate.