October 28, 2009, 9:03 AM — There is a lot of activity on the eBook front: Sony earlier this year announced that they would be moving towards supporting the open ePub eBook format on their eReaders, and they are expected to announce a new eReader that incorporates cellular data connectivity. Barnes and Noble announced their new Nook device that will be available later this year.
But with all the hoopla and promise, one thing missing from a lot of coverage is the software side of things. That is where the eBook eBattles will be fought and won.
eBooks are beginning to take hold for a lot of different reasons: finally there are enough titles available (although in a confusing array of formats and readers). Prices on the devices have come down and quality has gone up. Prices on the eBook titles themselves are at parity with the mass-market paperbacks. The size and quality of the screens is approaching that of printed paper. Battery life is reasonable.
All of this may be well and good, but the real reason that eBooks are doing well is that the software is finally catching up with the hardware. Why so? Because you need a great combination of eReader software along with Web storefronts that offer the books for sale and allow people to shop and discover books that they want to download to their readers. Some of the people that design the Web stores that offer up the eBooks are getting some clue here. The best example is Amazon’s Kindle storefront. Why? Because first and foremost, they know how to sell books online. Inside of about 35 seconds, I can find and purchase an eBook, and in another 35 seconds, have it in my hot little hands and start reading. It is hard to beat that kind of delivery time.
Sony’s Web store, ebookstore.sony.com, comes in second, such as trying to find bargains. On both you can sort eBooks by price, but because Amazon offers so many free eBooks, it is hard to find current titles. Sony does a better job. Sadly, in order to buy an eBook from Sony, you need their desktop client software. B&N.com is just plain miserable and I hope they get their act together when their reader is finally available.
My choice of eReader is to use the Kindle app that runs on the iPhone/iPod touch. I don’t have to carry another device around, and while the Kindle reader does drain my iPhone battery, I can deal with it. I also don’t read much beyond text: if I had a need for more graphics-rich documents, I would consider another reading device.
I have read about a dozen books from start to finish on my iPhone and found the experience to be more than satisfactory. Most of these are the sort of books that I would buy in airports and dispose of or donate almost immediately after reading. The iPhone Kindle app has a few things going for it: since I carry my phone everywhere, I am not without reading material to fill in those small time gaps during the day while I am waiting in an office for an appointment or so forth.