Kindle Apps for iPhone and iPad Get Audio, Video Boost

When Kindle books debuted back in 2007, they contained only words and grainy black-and-white photos. Last year, they got color pictures when they arrived on the iPhone (and later on Windows PCs, Macs, and the iPad). And now a handful of Kindle books pack multimedia features, thanks to new editions that can play back audio and video when you view them on an iPhone, an iPod Touch, or an iPad.

The new books use media to embed everything from cooking instructions…

to speeches by Franklin Roosevelt…

…and go for the Kindle’s signature price of $9.99 apiece. When I checked tonight, there were only thirteen of them available, five of which were Rick Steves travel guides. More are presumably on the way–when I bought books, I got links to additional A/V titles which, when I clicked to them, lead to error messages.

That wasn’t the only glitch I encountered tonight. When I clicked on the audio icons in one book on my iPhone, I got a message saying I should delete the book and try again. Another book I’d bought failed to show up as being available for download on my iPhone until twenty minutes after I’d successfully copied it down to my iPad.

I’m also bemused by Amazon’s decision to label each of these books’ listings with an explanatory box that says “Incorporates video and audio” when the majority only seem to include sound. Each listing also specifies exactly what media features the book includes, but they oughta be labeled “Incorporates video and/or audio.”

Downloading a book that contains audio and/or video, not surprisingly, takes a lot longer than snaring one that consists of nothing but text. The books I bought with audio took a few minutes apiece; one with video took around fifteen minutes. (The iPhone app sometimes makes the process look as if it’s going to be faster than it is: It quickly claims it’s downloaded 99% of a title, then spends most of its time on the final one percent.)

Oh, and you can only downloaded AV books over Wi-Fi, not a 3G connection. Unlike with its Kindle e-readers, downloads to Apple devices aren’t on Amazon’s nickel, so it’s protecting AT&T from an onslaught of Kindle app users clogging the 3G network with massive files.

The most intriguing thing about these books is that they exist at all: Amazon is now selling Kindle books with noteworthy features that aren’t compatible with its own hardware. Even if future Kindle e-readers can do media–and Amazon should be able to enable the new books’ audio via a firmware update–it’s encouraging evidence that the company sees Apple’s devices as an opportunity, not a threat. (Until now, the Kindle’s various software-only incarnations have often felt like afterthoughts that were only as good as they absolutely had to be to get by.)

Here’s one question, though: Why don’t these features work in the Kindle apps for Windows and OS X? Maybe the only issue is that Amazon is still working on the necessary software upgrades.

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