Kindle for iPhone

March 7th, 2009  |  Published in etc  |  2 Comments

… I like it.

I bought a Palm Pilot Personal in a clearance sale some time around 1998. At the time, you could get a “Personal” or a “Pro.” I got an e-book reader for it pretty quickly, and I hated the experience. Muddy text, rotten contrast. Painful.

Every time I’ve bought a new handheld device of some sort, I’ve tried reader software on it and walked away disappointed. The displays are cramped to the point it feels a little like trying to read a book with a narrow penlight and the type isn’t very good.

The iPhone’s display is substantially better than anything I’ve had before, which has made the reading experience with all of the reader software I’ve tried on it a little more pleasant, but the remaining problem for me has been book selection. Downloading freebies from Project Gutenberg didn’t really do it for me. Prices on some commercial e-book outlets seemed out of line, too.

I got to the end of my paperback copy of Old Man’s War (thanks Carl C.) and found myself ready to move right on to The Ghost Brigades just after Kindle for iPhone landed, so I downloaded the software, paid my money for the book and gave it a spin. I was less concerned with reader ergonomics than I was with whether the content could get me past the diminished experience a 3.5″ display practically mandates.

My receipt says I bought the book at 10:20 p.m. on 3/3, and I finished it last night just after we tucked Ben in after being out all afternoon, so I finished it in a bit under three days. I don’t do a lot of non-job-related reading during the day, and I do a fair bit of my reading between 10:30 and 11:30 each night, so I don’t think my reading speed was slowed much: It took me about a week to finish Iain Banks’ Matter, a slower read and about twice as long.

On the other hand, because the book was on my iPhone, I found myself reading in a lot more situations where I wouldn’t ordinarily bring a book along and I usually rely on finding a copy of Willamette Week or a newspaper: Breakfast out, over coffee, several pages here and there during the day. If I was slowed down a little by the reader’s ergonomics, I made up for it by doing more reading. Either way, it wasn’t a bad experience. I seldom thought about the technology involved while I was reading, unless it was because my phone rang or because I managed to crash the software. The crashes happened twice in three days, and each time it was because I tried to open a book while the software was still syncing with Amazon.

Blowing through Heinleinesque science fiction, though, involves a particular mode of reading that’s a little different from consulting The Ruby Way, a book on SEO or even a popular history of some sort. With that last, I like to pause with the book open in front of me, zone out a while, then see what words are there when I’m aware of the book again. Sometimes that creates a point of reentry into the text that causes me to skip back and re-approach. With its type set to the smallest setting, Kindle books on the iPhone present much less text to do that with, and it’s peskier to skip back and scan pages quickly.

The bigger display of the actual Kindle would seem to allow for that a little more readily. In fact, just from reading recent reviews of Kindle 2, it seems just about everything is better on the actual Kindle. Facile observations about razors and razorblades aside, Amazon has done with the iPhone what Apple did with the iPod Touch: use it to help you decide that considerably more expense is worth it to have a better experience. Apple’s trick worked on me, anyhow: Alison inherited my iPod Touch and decided she wanted nothing to do with an iPhone. We’ve been together for 12 years and she remains a delightful mystery.

Anyhow, the big barrier for me now is the whole notion of buying books. I still do it, but I think of it as an extravagance that I indulge when I’m feeling sort of moody or a little lost. We’ve got a great library system here in Portland that makes it easy to think of book-buying that way: I’ve never waited more than two weeks for a popular new release to be delivered to my local branch, and if I wanted to spend a dollar they’d even bring it to my door.


  1. gl. says:

    March 11th, 2009 at 12:10 pm (#)

    michaelmas has the kindle for iphone; it looks nice.

  2. Blog :: WebEditorMike says:

    August 13th, 2009 at 9:55 am (#)

    […] on the Palm, and they were horrible. The thing that shook me loose was the Kindle app for iPhone, which I wrote about elsewhere. It showed me that a decent display could make a big difference. I ordered my Kindle 2 within a […]

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