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A whale of an iPhone tale

Amazon's new Kindle app tempts one early adopter into going for

March 06, 2009|Carolyn Kellogg

When the news hit this week that Amazon was releasing a Kindle for iPhone, I jumped to get it. No matter how much I love books, I'd developed a definite longing for the Kindle. It was partly my fondness for new technologies, partly the (perhaps late) realization that e-readers are likely here to stay and partly, no doubt, Amazon's successful hype over the Kindle 2. And this was a way to get a taste of the Kindle without shelling out the $359.

So I went to the iTunes store and downloaded the free Kindle app. Then I looked around iTunes trying to find an e-book to read. Mistake. It was back to the laptop to use a browser to access's Kindle offerings from its site (this can be done from an iPhone's browser, but the laptop was faster).

I decided to go for a bruiser -- "Moby-Dick" by Herman Melville -- because I wanted the full effect of reading a big book in a non-book format.

Finding it took ages, though. In Amazon's Kindle section, I first looked for classics, but that wasn't a category, so I headed to literary fiction. Without any subcategories, I scanned by bestselling first -- but went through 30 screens without feeling convinced. Amazon may be good if you know exactly what you want, but it can't compare to a bookstore for browsing.

Most contemporary books for Kindle cost around $10, but when sorted by price (low to high), I came across "Moby-Dick" for 80 cents: Bingo.

And then, after I synced my iPhone, there was Ishmael. "Moby-Dick" was legible and crisp.

Since the text size can be changed, the number of pages isn't fixed; instead of pages, the book has screens. "Moby-Dick" on the Kindle for iPhone is 9,461 screens long.

OK, that'll take a while to read. So I headed off to bed with my Kindle-ized iPhone in hand. With the lights on, it wasn't much different from reading a book in bed: comfortable, occasionally awkward, sleep-inducing. But with the lights off, it was charming, kind of like reading with a flashlight under the covers after being told it was time for bed -- without having to crawl under the covers.

That said, I spend so much time staring into a glowing screen for my job that, as the day comes to a close, I'd rather see something else. I welcome the respite of looking at the pages of a book. I want to look at something that isn't shining at me.

But my Kindle-enabled iPhone will be a lifeline when I'm stuck for 30 minutes at the post office (as I was this week). That's when I'll be happy to read a tiny glowing version of "Moby-Dick," as many of the 9,461 screens as I can.


Kellogg blogs about books for Jacket Copy at

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