It seems the drive to tie anything to a form factor is bound to meet the same fate in the digital information age. Case in point — the Amazon Kindle.
In releasing an Amazon Kindle application for the iPhone, Amazon has joined the fray with Apple, releasing the Kindle from the constraints of a device and abstracting it out as software, just as Apple did with iTunes.
And it’s a really nice application. I downloaded it, and within moments of logging in, I was retrieving books from my virtual Amazon bookshelf and reading them. The reading experience is good, the navigation intuitive, and the basic Kindle conceits are nicely preserved.
With this move, Amazon is neutralizing the device battle. If you want to read e-books from Amazon, with their amazing customer experience behind it, go right ahead. If you want (instead or also) a dedicated e-reading device from Amazon, you can have that, too, and everything will work in sync with their store.
There is one limitation with this initial release — no book shopping directly from the iPhone. But if you buy a Kindle book via a browser, it will sync instantly to the device, so this isn’t really much of a problem, and I expect it will be addressed soon enough through an update. Also, you can buy a Kindle book through Amazon’s really slick iPhone store application, and it will move to the Kindle application, so you can get it all done on the iPhone.
(In an interesting aside, the Whispernet service has been redubbed Whispersync for the iPhone application, acknowledging, I think, that it’s not running through the Sprint EVDO contract but through the user’s cell service provider.)
Their storefront is what Amazon is all about. Their recent aggressive pricing on MP3s should be evidence enough.
In a recent Business Week article about how Amazon was ranked #1 in customer service, the reporter smartly observes about Amazon’s risk-taking in some areas:
. . . the ultimate goal is to gain more control over the shopping experience, making it more consistent and reliable. The idea is that more people will use the online retailer and spend more.
Ultimately, Amazon’s not battling with Apple, but with iTunes. Amazon is betting that its storefront — books, music, movies, everything — will beat iTunes.
I wouldn’t bet against it.