At the launch of the Kindle 2 a couple of weeks back, Jeff Bezos dropped some heavy hints that users would soon be able to synchronize their Amazon eBook content between the Kindle and other mobile devices. Yesterday they launched the Amazon App for the iPhone. This is a fascinating development, and I am sure that there will be plenty of ramifications. It has to be a good step for the overall development of the digital books market. Here is why:
- It is a significant step away from the Amazon exclusivity that the Kindle appeared to embody. All the sales will still be going through the Amazon e-commerce system, but this move shows that Amazon reading experience will not be stuck within a totally proprietary environment.
- As well as being a sign that Amazon is a bit more open than we thought, this move shows that Apple too is more open than some of us might have supposed (Apple's approval is needed for the App to get into the App Store) .
- The Amazon books might look better on the iPhone than on the Kindle. Books no longer need to be stuck with its grey-scale only eInk environment. The iPhone, of course uses colour, so at least the covers of books and magazines in the Kindle format can now offer colour, at least on the iPhone. I wonder when Amazon will get this organized?
- The Kindle still looks like an overly proprietary, insufficiently mobile, over optimised and limited, format, from which support might one day be withdrawn: but now at least there is a graceful way for Amazon to bow out if they decide to move on. They can allow the format and their licensed offerings to continue and survive on the Apple hardware (and other synchronised devices) when they finally decide to get out of the dedicated eBook hardware market. And my bet is they will.
- We don't know how Amazon's license with the publishers works. Clearly Amazon reckons that it allows them to do synchronised distribution to the iPhone. This may be allowable under the terms of the license because Amazon can guarantee that the iPhone is tied to the Kindle owner's account. A more 'untethered' form of mobile phone could pose them with a licensing issue. They are probably stuck with the deal that they originally promoted and offered to publishers. I suspect that there may be some tight and tricky corners for them to negotiate.
- Still no sign of the Kindle in international distribution. Perhaps Amazon's biggest problem here is figuring out a profitable and effective deal with carriers (they have a very unusual deal with Sprint in the US). Perhaps 'tethering' the Kindle to some other mobile platform will be a way to cross into Europe. Do I hear Kindle knocking on Nokia's door, or Vodafone sidling up to Amazon?