I have four eReader apps so far. Before talking about them individually, I'd like to mention that all these apps present eBooks with text that is formatted for easy reading on a handheld device. That means that you are not looking at tiny reproductions of the pages in the printed version of the book. Instead, the text is "re-flowed." You see artificial "pages" with however much text can fit on the iPhone screen, no more, no less.
Most of the apps give you the option to choose what font the text is in, how big the text is, how wide the margins are, how far apart the lines of text are, and so forth. (The Kindle for iPhone app is the sole exception; it gives you some formatting control, but it's locked into a single font.)
Now for the four apps:
Kindle for iPhone, free at the iTunes App Store, is the top name in the iPhone eReader app field. Kindle is the name of a handheld device that Amazon.com sells for $299. If you owned one, you could buy any of the over 350,000 books Amazon sells in eBook form, including virtually all of the current New York Times bestsellers, typically for a price of $9.99 or less.
If you have an iPhone or an iPod Touch along with the Kindle for iPhone app, you don't need a standalone Kindle device. You can download and read the same eBooks the Kindle eReader can, right on your iPhone.
Kindle eBooks are in a format that won't work with any device other than a standalone Kindle or a handheld device such as an iPhone/iPod touch that has the Kindle for iPhone app. There are, in addition to the Kindle eBook format, other eBook formats that boast hundreds of thousands of books. For those, I have three other iPhone apps.
Stanza is another free eBook reader app. It reads mainly free books — you don't have to pay for them — from a variety of sources. You can find and download these books by going into the Online Catalog in the Stanza app itself.
Also in the Stanza Online Catalog are links to vendors of books that do cost actual money. Right now one of the most popular eBooks-with-a-price is Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, which you can get for $9.95 by pointing the Stanza Online Catalog to BooksOnBoard. Using eReader (see below), I recently bought another version of the same book for $9.99. (I have seen the hardcover edition — list price $29.95 — on sale at a bricks-and-mortar Barnes & Noble for 40% off, at $17.97. You can buy the hardcover edition online at Amazon right this minute for $16.17. An eBook price of under $10 is a pretty good deal.)
The maker of the Stanza app is LexCycle. LexCycle is owned by ... guess who ... Amazon, makers of Kindle!
Stanza supports a wide range of eBook formats. If you click on this link, you can get a quick look at many of the main eBook formats that are in existence. Stanza supports most of them, but not all. The catch is — and this is a very important catch — Stanza does not support any format (other than the so-called eReader format; see below) when there is DRM protection involved. And it supports eReader DRM protection only on the iPhone/iPod touch, not in its desktop version.
What is DRM protection? DRM stands for "digital rights management," tech talk for copy protection. If you buy a Kindle eBook from Amazon, for instance, it will typically (but not always) be DRM-protected, which means you can't copy it to your spouse's iPhone. DRM-protected eBooks are usually encrypted, such that you have to enter a code such a a username/password combination to make them readable.
So there are two general types of eBooks. Most or all recently published eBooks have legal copyright protection, just as do the print editions. Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol is one of these. These copyrighted eBooks accordingly cost you money to buy and are DRM-protected and encrypted.
The other type of eBook is free of charge and not DRM-protected. Classic books that are old enough to no longer be copyright protected are the stars of this category. Their eBook versions typically have no DRM protection. Often they are in the ePub format, an open format that Stanza and some other iPhone e-Reader apps (but not Kindle for iPhone as far as I know) can use. (An "open" format is one that is not proprietary and can be used by anyone who wants to. The Kindle format is, on the other hand, proprietary and cannot be used by eBook sources not licensed by Amazon.)
eReader from FictionWise is a free app for iPhone that reads mainly eBooks that FictionWise itself and eReader.com sell.
This part of the discussion gets confusing, so bear with me: eReader.com is the name of a website that sells eBooks that are in the eReader format and are usable by the eReader iPhone app. FictionWise.com is the name of a website that likewise sells eBooks in eReader format usable by the eReader app.
Often, these two sources sell exactly the same eBooks. Both companies are owned by Barnes & Noble ... the bricks-and-mortar bookstore chain whose online store is in competition with Amazon.com, makers of Kindle. As endorsed in July 2009 by B&N, the eReader format is designed to allow DRM protection, putting it in direct competition with Amazon's Kindle format. The free B&N eReader app for iPhone (see below) uses the same DRM-protected format, but it makes you buy eBooks directly from the B&N website, not from FictionWise.com or eReader.com.
The eReader format is discussed in the Wikipedia article Comparison of e-book formats (scroll about halfway down, or else click here). It is also called the Palm Digital Media format, since it was originally for PalmOS, the operating system used on Palm handhelds.
Files in the Palm Digital Media (or eReader) format have the .pdb extension (though when you are using an iPhone app to access them, you can't see the files as such, much less their filenames and extensions). The .pdb extension derives from the initials of "Palm Data Base." These files, when in an open version of the format that is not DRM-protected, are often referred to also as "Palm Doc" files.
To add to the confusion, the term eReader is being used as a generic term for any handheld device that reads eBooks. By extension, any cellphone, smartphone, or other mobile device that can (with the proper app) read eBooks is an eReader.
Furthermore, there is yet another eReader app for iPhone ...
The free B&N eReader app is very much like the eReader app I just discussed, except that it is hot-wired directly to the Barnes & Noble website. When you shop for books in the B&N eReader app, the app automatically opens that website in the iPhone's Safari browser. You then use the browser to buy any eBook you want and add it to the eBook library that is maintained for you at the website. The eBook will automatically sync to your iPhone as soon as you return to the B&N eReader app on the iPhone.
The same B&N eReader app exists for the Blackberry as well as for Windows and Macintosh computers, so you can download and read any e-Book that you have in your Barnes & Noble e-Book library on any of these platforms.
More information on iPhone e-Reader apps can be found here:
- First Impressions of Kindle on iPhone comes from Walter S. Mossberg, author of the weekly Personal Technology column in The Wall Street Journal.
- Comparing Kindle 2 with Kindle's iPhone app comes from Nicole Lee, an associate editor at CNET.
- Kindle is not the best iPhone e-reader comes from tech columnist Don Reisinger and appears at CNET. It discusses Stanza and eReader,in addition to Kindle for iPhone.
- CNET's review of Kindle for iPhone contains a link with which to download it from the iTunes Store.
- CNET's review of Stanza also contains a link with which to download it from the iTunes Store.
- CNET's description (not a review) of eReader for iPhone likewise contains a link with which to download it from the iTunes Store.
- The LexCycle website has more information about Stanza.