iPad eBook match: Amazon 1, iBookStore 0 at half-time
Today Amazon introduced their new universal app, now called simply "Kindle" instead of (in the case of the iPhone version), "Kindle for iPhone". I have already downloaded it and note that in the new "Apps" folder on iTune 9 a number of my previously purchased iPhone programs, including Kindle, Evernote and WolframAlfa, have now moved into a new top section entitled "iPhone, iPod touch and iPad Apps".
The iPad version (left) introduces animated page turns and a new home screen which is similar, although probably more attractive, than the all-veneer bookshelves of iBooks. According to some commentators, this universal application brings the new animation and layout to all versions, but I find that the iPhone app, although clearly labelled "Version 2.0" has the same old non-animated interface as the previous Kindle for iPhone app. The reason for that will become clear, I am sure. At the moment it doesn't look very universal if the new iPad version is so very different.
So far, Amazon seem to have stolen a march on Apple's iBookStore. Their secret weapon is Whispersync. After using the Kindle app on my Mac and iPhone for the past few weeks, I cannot imagine using a book reading system that doesn't synchronise placeholder, bookmarks and annotations. Whispersync is the jewel in Amazon's crown and, frankly, not enough is made of it.
Unless and until Apple introduce syncing between, at the very least, iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, I will not have the confidence to buy books from their store. Apple already have the means to do it in Mobile Me, but I suspect there are some good reasons why sync will not be available initially and, perhaps, why no mention has so far been made of an iPhone version of iBooks.
In Amazon's system, as far as I can fathom it, your books are held on the Amazon cloud. When you've read a book you can delete it from your device and the title alone moves into another folder called "Archives Items". The books are removed from the device in order to save space, but they are instantly available for re-download if you need them. Amazon therefore has more direct control over your books and this, I suspect, helps with the synchronisation.
Apple's books, I imagine, will be downloaded to iTunes and then synced with the iPad. You'll be able to buy on the iPad, just as you can buy apps on the iPhone, and all books will later be synced back to iTunes. Only within iTunes, I suspect, will you be able to choose which books to have on your portable devices. In effect, your book purchases are all downloaded once and stored on your Mac in iTunes 9. It should be exactly the same system as with apps and music. This could make the synchronisation of placeholders and notes more of a problem for Apple, even with the assistance of Mobile Me.
I am convinced Apple will find a way round this. Dedicated readers everywhere will instantly see the attraction of Whispersync and, without an equivalent, iBooks is hamstrung from the word go. I'm surprised there has been absolutely no coverage on this issue of synchronisation in all the reams of stuff I've seen on the subject of iBookStore.
Much of this is conjecture on my part at this stage. For all I know, an iBooks app for iPhone and iPod touch will follow within days and Apple will have sorted out a means of offering synchronisation via Mobile Me. Let's hope.