Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Kindle App

I first mentioned the free Kindle App for iPhone in this post. At the time, I had downloaded it but had not tried it out. Today I got some time to play around with it on my iPod Touch, and here's my report.

As I said, the app is free. When you turn it on, you get the Kindle "splash screen" showing a person sitting under a tree reading a book. At the top it says "Amazon Kindle" and at the bottom it says Kindle for iPhone, with Whispersync. More on that later. When I entered the app, it showed me the "Home" screen. This is where the books are, though it didn't come with any books. This list can be sorted by Recent, Title, and Author. On the top right there is a "Get Books" button. I had assumed that it would take me to a mobile Amazon.com store where I can buy books, but instead it showed me a small page saying "Get the best shopping experience by visiting www.amazon.com/kindlestore on your Mac or PC. You can also use Safari on your iPhone to buy books." Well, I wanted to get the whole mobile experience on my iPod Touch, so I avoided going on my computer.

Fortunately, this page provides a link to the Amazon Kindle Store, which will open in Mobile Safari on your device. The Kindle Store is simply a section of Amazon.com dedicated to selling eBooks for the Kindle device (and now for the Kindle iPhone app as well). There doesn't seem to be a mobile-optimized version, so there's going to be some zooming and pinching. Generally not a bad experience though. Not wanting to spend money at the time, I just started looking around, and managed to find a couple user-created "lists" on the left column of the page. These lists happened to be lists of free Kindle books. I was soo there. Currently, the Kindle versions of Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson and Blood Engines by T.A. Pratt are free, so having heard of them recently I figured I'd buy those books... for free.

Keep in mind that you need an Amazon account to even use the app, and of course to buy Kindle books. Your existing Amazon account will do; no need to get a special Kindle account. I clicked "Add to cart" on one of the books, and it said "you cannot buy this item with a cart, please visit the item's info page to purchase." I thought that was odd, but it didn't stop me for very long. On the book's page there's a Buy Now with 1-Click button, which I promptly tapped. The next page I was presented with said something to the effect of "thank you for purchasing this book. It will be sent to your iPhone/iPod Touch the next time you open the Kindle app." Isn't that cool? It knew I was going to use the eBook on my iPod because I'd logged into my Amazon account when opening the Kindle app earlier. I bought both books mentioned above for a total of $0.

So I went back to open the Kindle app, and the Home screen showed an Activity icon, and after a matter of seconds, both books that I had purchased appeared on the list. I picked one randomly, Red Mars. The reading interface should be fairly familiar to those who use their iPod touch or iPhone for looking at pictures. Each page of the book is a screen on your device, and you swipe left to go to the next page and swipe right to go back. Tapping the screen brings up some onscreen controls, including a progress slider, which 1) indicates how far you are and 2) allows you to slide to go directly to a certain part of the book. You can also create and access your bookmarks from here, as well as choose 5 different sizes of text. Great for those who can't read smaller text as well. One neat feature for owners of multiple iPhones, iPods, and/or Kindles, is the sync feature, which gets your current page and synchronizes your reading progress across all devices. So if you use your iPhone on the go but read your Kindle when you go home, when you get home your Kindle will be on the right page.

This is the extent of my testing. It's just a very brief first impression. So far, it works. I don't know if I really plan to do a lot of reading on my iPod, but the fact that the option is here in the Kindle app, along with others such as Classics or Stanza, really improves the versatility of the device. I don't plan to get a Kindle any time soon, but Amazon made a great choice in making this app available to those like me. After all, they will be making money on book sales.