Amazon’s Kindle App for iPad vs Apple’s iBooks

One of the main reasons I wanted to buy Apple’s iPad is to use the device as an ebook reader. I’m a big reader, and have thousands of books, but would like to be able to read some books on a portable device. Aside from any discussion of the merits of this, I thought I would look at the two main apps for reading ebooks, Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iBooks. (I’m leaving aside the many other apps that allow you to read free ebooks, or those which offer limited catalogs. I’m just looking at the two that let you read the broadest selection. And I won’t discuss selection here either, because the iPad is too new to have the selection that Amazon offers.)

First, Amazon currently has the edge in device ubiquity, with a Kindle app for the iPhone and iPod touch, as well as for the iPad. Apple’s iBooks will, however, be available for these devices in the fall, when the company releases a new version of their software. Amazon also, however, lets you read ebooks on their own device – the Kindle – or on a Mac or PC, with a program that that works on those platforms. Apple will presumably follow suit, with a Mac version of iBooks in the fall, and perhaps even a Windows version.

But the main question remains that of display. Reading an ebook, you want the broadest range of display options, so you can get the maximum reading pleasure from the books you buy.

Let’s begin with the Kindle app. Display looks more rudimentary with the Kindle, and layout of many books is not ideal, with improper paragraph spacing and widows and orphans (paragraphs display just a single line at the beginning or end of a page). Here are two examples of the same page of a book, showing both portrait and landscape view:

Several things stand out: first, the image looks somewhat dark and grayish, rather like it does on a standalone Kindle device. The actual image on screen looks brighter, but there is a gradient that fades away toward the edges. Second, the layout is stark, utilitarian, and doesn’t look like a “book”. This is not a bad thing, actually, as there are no extraneous filigrees to distract you. When you change pages, they just wipe from one side to the other. Also, Amazon’s landscape view displays a rather wide page, which cannot be adjusted. In some cases, the lines are too long to read comfortably, and I would rather be able to set the margins in that view to keep them narrower.

With the Kindle, you have limited options to change the display. You can change the font size, but only to five sizes, and you can change the color of the display: black fonts on a white background, white fonts on a black background, and sepia fonts on a beige background. The latter is nice, but the fonts aren’t dark enough, and they fade into the background. You can also change the brightness from the application, while you’re reading, to adapt to your current ambient lighting conditions.

Now let’s see how Apple does it with iBooks. Here are two examples of a book page:

The first thing that strikes you is the book metaphor: the pages and shadows that try to give you the impression that you’re reading something other than an ebook. I don’t see this as being essential, and in fact it is a bit distracting. There is a toolbar at the top of the page, and a progress bar at the bottom. You can tap in the center of the page to make these go away, leaving just the title of the book at the top, and a page counter (ie, 10 of 252) at the bottom. In addition, in landscape view, the book shows two “pages”. Again, this looks more like a book, and solves the problem of the Kindle’s wide pages, but this makes for very narrow lines. I don’t find this very readable.

But overall, Apple’s iBooks provides more options for displaying text. Apple gives you ten font sizes, from tiny to huge, and lets you choose from five fonts (Amazon imposes their font). As with the Kindle, you can adjust brightness with a slider. However, you cannot change the color of the page or the font. Apple continues with their book metaphor when you change pages. You can tap and drag a page, and watch a very detailed animation of a page-turn, at whatever speed you want. You can also just tap on the left or right of a page to have it “turn” with a sort of animated wipe. This eye candy is attractive at first, but the “wow” factor quickly gets stale.

Overall, I prefer the iBooks display, mainly for the ability to choose a font and a more precise size. I wish the toolbar would go away, or that there were an option to display it or not. I think different display colors could be useful, if the user is allowed to choose them, rather than just select from the three presets that Amazon offers. I don’t find the page turning animation useful, other than to show of the iPad’s abilities. Both apps display text crisply, because of the iPad’s screen, making reading quite easy.

In the end, the decision to buy a book from one or another will be, in part, fueled by a book’s availability (Amazon has far more books than Apple). But given the choice, at the same price, I’d choose to buy books for iBooks, because the reading experience is more flexible, and the display of text more attractive.

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8 replies
  1. Jim says:

    I used a Kindle on a two week trip to Europe. No service for downloading (my Kindle uses Sprint) so I turned off the radio. The battery lasted through the trip without recharging.

    I am happy with the battery on my iPad but it isn’t going to last two weeks.

    The Kindle is smaller and lighter. I know you have visual limitations, but I prefer the Kindle for reading because that’s all it does and it offers no distractions.

    Reply
    • Sam says:

      I agree about battery life. In fact, I rarely turn on the wireless on my kindle because of the amazing battery life. However, Kirk is comparing the Kindle *app* on the iPad to the iBooks app, rather than comparing the Kindle *device* to the iPad.

      Reply
      • kirk says:

        Yes, I’m not talking about the Kindle device, which does get better battery life than the iPad: the iPad is rated at 10 hours or so, though some tests have it running video for 11-12 hours before dying.

        Reply
  2. Aaron Meurer says:

    I don’t understand why ebook readers can’t scroll. This is much more intuitive to me than flipping pages. With something that scrolls (like text on a webpage), I never have to have a sentence broken at a page boundary. I never even have to read text at the top or bottom of the display, which is more difficult. I can just keep it in the middle. iPhone OS scrolling is even better than regular computer scrolling for this because you can “push” text at the very bottom or very top of a page to the middle.

    I saw some individual book apps in the App Store that used scrolling and have a feature to scroll by tilting the device (so you don’t have to swipe all the time). I haven’t read much of the book I got yet, but I think it was pretty good if I remember correctly.

    Also, does iBooks let you lock orientation like the Kindle app does? Otherwise, it would be a no-go for anyone who wants to read in bed or any other sideways orientation.

    Reply
  3. kirk says:

    As for scrolling, I find that a bit disturbing. With text moving rather than being replaced with a new page, I find my eyes constantly moving to follow it, and the text, when moving, blurs a bit. I see that when reading articles.

    As for orientation, the iPad itself has a hardware button to lock it. On the iPhone and iPod touch, for the Kindle app, you tap in one corner and tap a lock icon. I assume that iBooks will offer the same feature.

    Reply
  4. peterb says:

    One correction to your article: in iBooks, if you tap in the middle of the page, the icons and progess bar disappear, leaving only the book’s title and the page number. Tap again and they come back.

    Reply
  5. RalphT says:

    Thanks for your comparison. Maybe when Barnes & Noble updates their reader for iPad you can add it to the comparison.
    I began reading ebooks years ago with Windows mobile devices and tried several different sites. One of my favorites was initially called Peanut Press. This was subsequently bought by Palm and ultimately renamed eReader.com. I liked that they made readers for various platforms and content purchased from them could be read on any or all of them. Another useful feature was the ability to designate any dictionary in your library to lookup word definitions as you read. Apparently B&N acquired them and used their software for their B&N iPhone reader.
    So far only the iBooks, B&N reader/eReader and Stanza apps (and Logos for Biblical texts) have this tap the word to look up definition feature that I find helpful. The next iPhone/iPad OS 4 will have multitasking to allow speedier access to dictionaries, but that is still not as convenient as having the capability built in (like the Kindle and Nook Hardware)
    Thanks again for your comparison!
    Ralph

    Reply

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