Kindle & Kindle-on-iPhone

I was pretty sure that the iPhone Kindle app would be sort of neat, but not ultimately very useful. After a week with it, I will say this: I was wrong. It’s important, and is already changing my relationship with the books that I read.

To start with, a few pieces of context. I’ve had the first generation Kindle since it came out; got the 2nd generation Kindle (verdict: betterish) when it came out — so now my wife & I are each reading on a Kindle. And we use 1st & 2nd generation iPhones as well. We have a lot of screens. It’s a little ridiculous.

Anyway, I’ve read maybe 50 books on Kindles now — I probably do about half of my book reading on the Kindle. (And none of my newsreading, which is 100% web; and very little of my magazine reading — but The New Yorker on Kindle is growing on me quickly now — suspect The Atlantic won’t be far behind.)

And so the first thing you need to know about all the various Kindle reviews on the web is this: throw them all out. People read differently — everyone is unique in their relationship to (especially) long form writing — what we usually call books. Many, many reviewers on the web have been reviewing the Kindle like they’d review a new laptop or a new cell phone — pick it up, play with the features, make some conclusions & write them up. But I’d wager that a very high percentage of these reviewers don’t read that many long form books, and wrote their reviews, in order to be timely, before they’d really spent much reading time, let alone notetaking, highlighting, etc. That makes a real difference, and I think makes most reviews very very suspect.

When you get time with the Kindle to read longer books, you realize the reflective nature of the eInk page, while far from perfect, is much better for reading lots of pages than an LCD screen is — way easier on your eyes, much more natural feeling. And while everyone wants to touch the text, I think a touch screen is not actually ideal for reading — smudges will be brutal — especially for a non-backlit screen.

So while I was early to try the iPhone app, I was pretty dismissive of it — didn’t think I would use it at all.

But I have, a lot, and it’s changing the way I think about my books. I’ve found myself reading more when out & about — while waiting for my oil change the other day, in between meetings while traveling, etc — all on the iPhone. Because my books are synced — so I have my content with me all the time, and know what page I’m on all the time — it’s easier to read them because I’m more likely to have them with me, in one form or another. Which means that I’ve been keeping the threads of each book more present in my head, which tends to reinforce my desire to read more, as opposed to alternative timewasting activities (especially when traveling) like news reading, video watching, or iPhone Yahtzee playing (I’m addicted, a little, but I could totally stop any time I wanted to.)

So this is sort of a shocking development for me: the iPhone Kindle + physical Kindle + library of books in the cloud is actually extending my attention span and increasing my reading, which has been on the decline for the past few years. It’s making me want all my books to be cloud-accessible and sharable with Kathy’s Kindle, too (not to mention others in my friends & family circles). The ability to view notes on the iPhone means that I can blog books with quotes even without the Kindle, which was a challenge before.

And so it makes me want to have my long form reading content + notes available & searchable on my laptop as well, naturally.

So you can see where things are heading: the utility of having ubiquitous access to content will ultimately trump the old forms. There’s no going back. I said it when I first got my Kindle, and it remains truer than ever: I thought that it was books that I really loved — but I was wrong — it’s reading longer form articles & stories & novels & histories — it’s the words and ideas and flow that I really love.

Happily, the Kindle ecosystem reinforces that feeling a ton — surprised & pleased.

[and yes, the DRM is killing me. it really gets in the way of legitimate book-type sharing. i really don’t like the closed nature of the system. but i think, like music, that this will fall over time.]


  1. Now if the Kindle were only available in Canada!

  2. Thanks for taking the time to write this. I’m finally joining the Kindle community as a birthday gift (from the girls). Now I just need an iPhone. I’m pleasantly trapped on a Blackberry due to corporate standards. Safe travels.

  3. Called it

    I just can’t justify the cost of a Kindle… just don’t find myself with enough time to read enough to make it worth while. That said, I think it’s something that will eventually get down to being a netbook of sort (or maybe merge). Perhaps when we start to get around the $100 mark it will be worth it.

  4. I can’t imagine buying something like this without being able to try it out first. If/when the Kindle is available in brick & mortar stores, I’d certainly be wanting to fondle it for a while.

  5. I wish I could buy the books that I get on Amazon UK on my Kindle.

  6. @Robert Actually, that’s not what I’m saying — I said that it’s very useful for me in addition to my Kindle — a little more than an accessory, but *mostly* is useful because it’s in addition to my library-in-the-cloud. I don’t expect to read a ton of complete books on iPhone only, but I believe (now) that quite a few people will.

  7. i wish to have that. but still not available on us here…

  8. DRM? What DRM? Oh, maybe the DRM on books purchased at Amazon, or the DRM on books purchased for other eReaders. But as for “free” books, there is no DRM.

    I have added many free books to my Kindle. When I say many, that would be in the thousands. Granted, I havnt installed all of them yet, but hundreds, yes. The other 14 Gigabytes of books are waiting on my PC’s hard drive.

    There are a lot of free ebook websites out there. Do a google search for Gutenberg project.

    One of the best non-DRM things with the Kindle is being able to convert TEXT, PDF, HTML, DOC, and so on into Kindle Books for free! You simply email it to your Kindle account (there are two, the free account emails it back, while the other account charges 10 cents to send it directly to your Kindle).

    I have taken several of the free books (free being public domain) and reformatted them on my PC, and emailed them to my Kindle account, got them back in my email, and uploaded them to my Kindle, as Kindle Books.

    I have even sent technical PDFs for some of my equipment to be converted for me, and sent directly to my Kindle (with that 10 cent fee, which I havnt been charged for yet, they must either add it on my next purchase, or wait until it adds up enough to make it worth the time to charge me for it).

    As long as Amazon doesn’t “screw the pooch” they have an awesome device here.

  9. I’ve found that Instapaper Pro for iPhone in combination with the corresponding bookmarklet for Firefox has taken my reading of short-form stuff (ie web pages) to the next level in much the way you describe the Kindle having done for your long-form reading.

  10. I came across this interesting post from a Kindle fan…would be interested to hear your take on it (esp. point #2):

  11. hey john — on the TPM piece — on the first point, they’re right — but I have to think that the DRM will follow the same path as music, eventually.

    on the 2nd, that’s a fair point — archivability is tough — but I ultimately don’t think that’s a good enough reason to think it won’t happen. look at pictures, video, music, etc.