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iPad Reading Apps - Kindle vs iBooks

iPad Reading Apps: Kindle vs iBooks

note:  In a way, this is a continuation of my previous post comparing Kindle 2 to iPad 2.  That post focuses on hardware aspects of the two.  This one is comparing iBooks to the Kindle app on the iPad 2.

iPad 2 Reading Software

Because the iPad is a multi-function device, the actual reading experience is mediated through your choice of reading app.  I tried Kindle for iPad and Apple's iBooks.  I know there are others, but those two seem to be the main options.

Both apps will keep track of a large number of books, maintaining your location within each one.  They also allow bookmarking and annotating, though I don't use those features.

Visual Design and Page Turning

iBooks shows faux pages and a fake crease down the middle of the screen, presumably to try to make it feel more like reading on dead trees.  Kindle goes for a much more minimalist interface with almost no decorations on the screen.  At first the fake pages (and attendant page turn animation) seemed hokey to me, but at this point I don't really care.  The Kindle app is definitely more attractive, though.  You don't expect Apple to lose that kind of competition, which makes me think they didn't take iBooks as seriously as you might expect.

It's a bit weird, but with all of these (Kindle, Kindle App and iBooks) I'll occasionally turn the page when I don't mean to.  This seems to happen a lot more often with Kindle App than with iBooks.

Progress, Location and Syncing

Kindle and iBooks both give you a handy little progress bar at the bottom that you can grab and scrub back and forth through the book.  iBooks wins big by popping up the chapter titles as you do it.  They both give you location in pages (Kindle originally only gave it in mysterious inexplicable numbers).  On iBooks you can resize the text and see the number of pages change.  On Kindle resizing the text doesn't change the number of pages - apparently they're using some kind of platonic ideal of pages.  iBooks is a bit friendlier, though if Kindle has failed to sync your location having stable page numbers across devices can make it a little easier to re-find your spot on a different device.

Speaking of syncing, both apps will fairly regularly fail to sync some reading between devices, even when you're online.  Most of the time everything works great - you pick up on your phone right where you left off on the iPad, but probably 10 or 20 percent of the time you'll wind up manually thumbing forward trying to find your spot.  That's much easier to do on the iPad than on the iPhone, but even then it's still mildly annoying.

Back in the days of dead trees I used to not bother with bookmarks and just try to remember my page number, so the occasional bobble on device change doesn't bother me too much.  Your mileage may vary.

Color Scheme, Brightness and Font

Kindle lets you select a dark background with white text in addition to black on white and sepia (brown on cream).  iBooks limits you to black on white and sepia.  Having a black background is a win for reading in a completely dark room.  It will also limit light-spill if you're worried about annoying someone else in the room. Advantage: Kindle.

iBooks wins on access to dim the screen, though.  Brightness is a separate "menu" option, whereas you have to go through the font/page color menu on Kindle.  Since I tend to do this frequently as the day gets brighter or darker, quicker access is a good thing.  One thing I did notice, though was that if I shut the app my adjusted brightness won't be applied right away when I restart the app.  I'm guessing this is to keep you from starting the app with it set so dim that you can't see where to change the brightness.

For both apps, if I'm using a light background I always go sepia.  It seems to be easier on my eyes.  I also try to match the background color to the surrounding light level, which helps with eye strain.

One really nice feature on iBooks is that I can change the font of the text I'm reading.  The same menu that lets you choose font sizes lets you switch between a handful of different fonts.  Lately I find myself fiddling with this as I start a new book, seeking the best font for it.  Strangely, I haven't ended up on the exact same font every time.

Buying Books

Each app has its own bookstore, and they both do a good job integrating with the iPad apps, but Amazon does a bit better job.  Downloading books after purchase is slicker and more automated in the Kindle app.  Further, the Amazon store has a better selection, prices and browsing experience.

Buying off of, you can buy something and send it straight to the Kindle app on your iPad.  This is amazingly convenient.  Shortly after you start the app up your new book will arrive.  If you want to buy from the iPad, you just use the browser to browse and make purchase.

You can access the iBookstore from the iPad and it will download straight to the device.  If you're buying books from the iBookstore on your computer, you have to buy them, download them to your iTunes, then sync them to the iPad.  I haven't spotted a way to send them direct the way you can with Kindle.

On the flip side, if you buy from a third party store (like Smashwords or PragPub) you'll have a little easier time loading your books into iBooks.  You can just drag epub files into iTunes and sync them.  The analogous operation for Kindle requires you to dig into the settings for the kindle app within iTunes.

One book I got for free from the iBookstore ("iPad at Work", from Apple) seems to have actually downloaded a PDF, instead of a real ebook.  I can't resize the text, and instead of giving a standard progress readout at the bottom it has a row of page thumbnails.  I didn't notice a warning that it wouldn't act like a normal book before I got it.  Caveat emptor.


Both apps will sync your location with apps on your iPhone, but Kindle wins big by providing a best of breed app for reading on your computer in addition to the Kindle itself.  Plus, Amazon's new Cloud Reader website lets you read ebooks you bought from Amazon on Chrome or Safari.  Amazon thus provides a full spectrum of solutions - smartphone, tablet, reader and computer.  iBooks is only available on iOS devices, so Android phones and even Mac OS X computers are left high and dry.  There's a rumor that the next version if iTunes will include an iBook reader

iBooks will sync your location in books that you didn't buy from Apple.  This works even for books purchased from Amazon that have been converted to epub format and loaded into iTunes.  It will not pick up reading you do in Calibre or Kindle on your computer, though.


All in all, I like the reading experience a little better on iBooks, but I wouldn't feel like I was suffering if I ended up with nothing but Amazon's apps.  Both iBooks and Kindle are on the my iPad's dock, and I use them both regularly.

Published on 20/08/2011 at 14h33 under .

  • By JohnGL 20/08/2011 at 19h29

    Thanks Erik! Good read. I finally downloaded the Kindle PC version to my Netbook (yes, I’m old school) and it works pretty well. Most Glorious Spousal Unit will be pleased that she can do this on her iPad – which we haven’t bought yet – as well. :-)

  • By Erik 21/08/2011 at 13h59

    Netbooks are strangely attractive. I’m rather fond of Meg’s, except for the track pad. If I was rich I’d have one of the Macbook Airs to complement my iPad :)

    When you get that iPad, consider registering the Kindle app on it to the same account as your Netbook. That way you both have access to all the books that either one of you buys without having to strip the DRM off of them. The downside is that it will keep trying to sync both of them to whichever of you has read farthest in a given book.

    If Val and I had thought of sharing an account we’d have a lot easier time sharing books with each other.

  • By Valerie 22/08/2011 at 17h09

    One thing to add to your comments about getting third-party books into the Kindle app - I put the MOBI file in the “My Kindle Books” folder on the MacBook and then open the OSX Kindle app, check that the new book(s) appears on the Home screen, and give it time to sync with Amazon. In the iOS Kindle app, all those new books show up in “Archived Items” for easy sync.

    I prefer this method because it doesn’t involve iTunes and accessing the Kindle app settings requires me to have the iOS device plugged in, which is not always convenient at whatever point I am managing my digital books. (obviously if there is a way to do this without the device attached I haven’t found it and would love to know about it)

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