The reading public today was inundated with news about Amazon.com's new Kindle 2 ebook reader, but the iPhone may already have a headstart thanks to Google Book Search and Safari Books Online. Both services are accessible via MobileSafari and require live online access, unlike the Kindle 2.
Google Book Search
Last week Google, announced a mobile version of Google Book Search that gives you access to 1.5 million public domain books in the United states (and about .5 million in other countries) from your iPhone and other web-enabled mobile devices.
The books are now optimized for mobile devices via optical character recognition (OCR), which was used to extract the text from images of a books physical pages. Unfortunately, OCR is not always accurate so there are plenty of recognition errors, however simply tapping any of the text shows you an image of the original. This worked fairly well during our tests.
You can visit Google Book Search from your iPhone or other mobile device by going to http://books.google.com/m.
The mobile service lacks a number of features from the normal version. You cannot see limited previews of copyrighted books, there are no purchase links for those books and of course you have to be online while reading the book. Perhaps this will change in a future version.
Due to the requirement that users maintain online access while reading, we don't see this app replacing some of the other eBook readers we've written about before likeor . Both of these apps store books directly on the iPhone for reading offline.
Safari Books Online
There is a new version of Safari Books Online for O'Reilly's subscription-based book library service. Safari Books Online offers you via a paid subscription access to thousands of technical book titles from O'Reilly, Peachpit Press, Prentice-Hall, Microsoft Press, and many others. If you are a current subscriber, launch Mobile Safari and go to http://m.safaribooksonline.com. Like Google's offering, online access is required in order to use this service. Safari Books Online is still in beta and may exhibit a few glitches. The final version of the mobile formatted website is due at the end of this month.
iPhone users now have a variety of options for reading books via various iPhone apps and now via various websites. However, the iPhone comes up short in some respects: small screen, lack of online book storage for some of these eBook implementations and short battery life. So, for the time being, the Kindle 2 may reign as the leading portable book reader.
Update:yet another iPhone ebook reader is covered by Eric Franklin on CNET's iPhone Approll blog. Worth a read as it shows that there truly is a lot of desire by app developers to become king of the book hill on the iPhone. So where is Amazon? Amazon should release Kindle for the iPhone and soon. However, it might already be to late for them to even bother since nearly a handful of developers are way ahead of Amazon and getting closer to claiming that hill.