Why the iPhone's No Kindle Killer

In these days of iPhone hype run amok, it's understandable if some people get a little ahead of themselves. Back in 2007, how many people expected the device to become a portable gaming platform that rivals the Nintendo (OTC: NTDOY.PK) DS and Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) PlayStation Portable? Or, with the help of some mapping software, a personal navigation system that's putting Garmin (Nasdaq: GRMN  ) and TomTom on edge?

So when I read about industry research firm Flurry's assertion that the iPhone was now set to take market share from Amazon.com's (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) Kindle in the e-reader market, I took the predictions as a reflection of the tech zeitgeist. But in this case, it probably wouldn't hurt to throw some cold water on Flurry's enthusiasm.

From a hardware standpoint, Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPhone simply can't compete with the Kindle as an e-book reader. Though the iPhone does have a nice display, it still measures only 3.5 inches. This compares with six inches for the Kindle 2, and 9.7 inches for the more expensive Kindle DX. In addition, unlike the iPhone, the Kindle devices have dedicated keyboards and physical keys for tasks such as searching, highlighting, and page navigation.

But perhaps most importantly, the iPhone relies on an LCD display, whereas the Kindle relies on E Ink technology. While an LCD is just fine for browsing web pages and reading magazine articles, E Ink is much easier on the eyes for reading, say, a 400-page novel. And thanks to E Ink, a Kindle can go up to four days without needing to be recharged -- even while staying connected to AT&T's (NYSE: T  ) network. Good luck accomplishing that on an iPhone (or any other smartphone) while keeping its LCD lit for a several hours each day.

To make its case that the iPhone is a threat to the Kindle, Flurry noted that the "Books" category in the iPhone's App Store has now eclipsed the "Games" category in having the largest number of titles. But when I look at the top 20 "Paid Apps" in the Books category, there wasn't a single contemporary best-seller. Instead, there were several inexpensive collections of public domain works, four Bible-related entries, a recipe book, a dog trick book, and of course, a book on iPhone tips. Meanwhile, a list of the most popular downloads overall predictably had many free titles.

Compared with the Kindle, whose best-seller list includes many contemporary titles selling for $9 or more, the difference is night and day. The Kindle is being adopted by avid readers willing to carry around an extra device that's focused on replacing their paperbacks. The iPhone's e-reading capabilities, on the other hand, seem to be embraced more by casual readers who don't want to carry a second device, and are simply looking for a bit of reading material while on the go.

It's no surprise, then, that Amazon was willing to create a Kindle app for the iPhone. The company realized that reading an e-Book on an iPhone is a completely different experience, and that embracing the iPhone would do far less to cut into Kindle hardware sales than it would to increase the addressable market for Kindle content.

None of this is to say that the Kindle doesn't have real competition. Sony, with its Daily Edition reader, is a force to be reckoned with. As is Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS  ) with its recently announced Nook e-Reader. But as for the iPhone? Let's just say that Nintendo should be more worried about that device than Amazon.

Fool contributor Eric Jhonsa has good memories of reading a Curious George masterpiece at the age of 5. He has no position in any of the companies mentioned. Apple, Amazon.com, and Nintendo are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On November 03, 2009, at 4:32 PM, jeturcotte wrote:

    It's also can't match the kindle's battery life

  • Report this Comment On November 03, 2009, at 4:40 PM, agragr wrote:

    What nonsense. I've read 8 books so far on my iPhone and am currently in the middle of Tale of Two Cites. The display is perfectly comfortable and the font adjusts to my vision. Plenty of ergonomic research shows a narrower column of text is easier on the eyes. A touch on the screen edge gets me to the next page fast. A touch on the center gets me all the tools I need.

    The backlit screen lets me read in bed and zoomable color illustrations beat black and white any day. If I see a word or concept I'm not familiar with, Google is a couple of clicks away. Best of all, I always have the books I am reading with me. Yes, I must charge my iPhone every night -- a small price to pay for all it does for me.

  • Report this Comment On November 03, 2009, at 5:53 PM, thewill586 wrote:

    I disagree with many points in this article too. For anyone who jailbroke their original 2G iPhone, it was clear that the iPhone was going to be a gaming device. And, the Google Map app was already predicting GPS navigation capabilities. e-Book functionality isn't a ground breaking capability. I recently bought and read my first e-Book: The Lost Symbols by Dan Brown. I used BN's reader so that both my wife and I could read on our iPhones at the same time for only $9.99. We wouldn't have to pay for an extra device like on Amazon's Kindle reader and the iPhone App version of the book costs $29.99. With such a high cost for the iPhone app version, I'd bet that everyone would be opting for the cheaper options.

    Because the book is on my iPhone, I'm used to charging it everyday. So, the point about a longer Kindle battery life is moot.

    The iPhone's screen is smaller, but I was able to change it to a black background with white font and also increase the font size. I didn't feel any eye strain, which I normally would get with a normal book. However, I did feel fatigue on my thumb from flipping through so many pages.

    In summary, the iPhone works as a e-Reader and is probably muting the need for a separate e-Reader. Only those who read many books could justify the cost for a dedicated e-Book device.

  • Report this Comment On November 03, 2009, at 5:58 PM, hazelbrook wrote:

    how come every device is trying to compare to iphone? and some say that iphone OS is obsoleted (see Android's tread)

  • Report this Comment On November 04, 2009, at 9:34 AM, TMFBent wrote:

    Finally! Thanks for stating the obvious that most tech pundits out there (who write without having used the devices) always miss.

  • Report this Comment On November 04, 2009, at 9:41 AM, coastchimes wrote:

    I've read a dozen full length books on my iPod Touch. I have no issue with the screen size (how tough is it to lightly touch the side to turn the page?) or having it lit (very nice for night reading).

    Battery life? That is a non-issue as far as I am concerned. How often are you away from an electric outlet, and the thing charges in like fifteen minutes-- big deal.

    I mainly use Stanza, and have over sixty titles waiting to be read-- all free. The Pod is always in my pocket (that it fits in a pocket is a big, big plus compared to something like a Kindle), and I find I do a lot more reading since it is always there, ready to go. It's not perfect, but nearly so.

  • Report this Comment On November 04, 2009, at 4:20 PM, cdtfuser wrote:

    I agree with Eric. The iPhone is no threat to Kindle or other ebook readers. There may be a lot of users out there who are satisfied with the small LCD screen on the iPhone, but those people were never in the target demographic for an ebook reader.

    It's clear that e-book manufacturers are taking this approach based on the fact that they all provide free readers for smart phones.

    Ultimately Amazon and B&N probably don't care much about the adoption of their specific readers. They're more interested in selling titles for $9.99, which results in much more profit for them than a $7 paperback that can be passed around.

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