In the last couple of months, the iOS Kindle app has received a couple of significant updates, so I dug out my old iPad Mini 2 to take a look. The changes are interesting, and will probably be useful to some readers—though I’m not so sure they’d necessarily make the app useful for me.
First of all, there’s one feature I couldn’t try out, because the Mini 2 is too old, but those with newer iPads can take advantage of it. On devices that support iOS’s split-screen function, the Kindle can now display a book in half the screen, while some other app runs in the other half. This means that someone could, at least in theory, read a Kindle ebook in half the screen while taking notes in the other half, much as the Onyx Boox Max 2 let you do with its own reading function.
The other big feature, which David mentioned in his own post, is that the Kindle app now (partly) supports vertical scrolling. This means that people who prefer reading ebooks on a long scrolling window rather than flippable pages can now do so—as long as they’re reading an ebook they bought from Amazon. Much like Amazon’s Page Flip feature that gives you a grid of multiple page thumbnails, this only seems to work with the new KFX-formatted ebooks. It didn’t work with MOBI-format ebooks that I made myself.
Presumably, it’s easier for Amazon to support some of these features in its devices and apps by building hooks for them into the file format itself—but on the other hand, apps like Marvin can scroll any book they can read. And being able to do nifty things like scrolling rather than flipping would give readers some incentive to buy the books from Amazon rather than somewhere else.
Another oddity about the feature is that it has to be enabled from a settings screen several menu options deep—and then once it is enabled, there’s a switch on the font and margins control screen for compatible books that can be turned on and off. Why didn’t they just put that switch there by default, rather than require users to enable a buried setting option first?
Once it’s enabled, and on books that can use it, the scrolling feature seems to work reasonably well. This screenshot is from Ryk Spoor’s Princess Holy Aura and shows the dedication, section heading, and start of chapter all on the same screen, which are on three separate pages in page-flip mode. In the books I’ve tried, the formatting seems to translate well enough to scrolling, with only a few minor bobbles here and there.
One thing I don’t like as much about it is that there’s no way to page down exactly one screen’s worth with a single tap. You have to swipe exactly as far up as you want the text to move, or else “throw” it by swiping fast and releasing. If you want to be able to move exactly one page forward with one tap, you have to turn scrolling off.
The Kindle app also introduced the new magazine format, which uses a version of the KFX ebook format to allow browsing magazines in the Kindle app. Unlike scrolling, this was introduced to the Android version as well, and seems to work largely the same in both places. Magazines can be read either in their PDF-like formatted version, or in a text-ebook-style “simple text” reading mode. You switch between them by double-tapping in the Android version, or using a mode selection switch at the top of the screen on iPad.
When reading in magazine mode, viewing in portrait shows one page and in landscape shows two facing pages. This is helpful for seeing how two-page spreads look, but on a screen the size of the iPad Mini (or even the regular-sized iPad) it makes the text too small to read. (And don’t even try it on a smartphone!) It might make the iPad Pro a great color-magazine-reading platform, I suppose. Also in magazine mode, tapping at the bottom of the screen brings up a row of page thumbnails for easier page-flipping and navigation.
I’ve never really been all that interested in magazines, especially on a phone or tablet, but those who are might find this a useful feature—especially with the Amazon store’s subscription function.
There are a few minor features that were added as well—the ability to check a Kindle Unlimited or Prime Reading ebook back in from within the Kindle app by long-pressing the book, refreshing the library by swiping down, and a settings menu option (buried one level deeper than the scroll setting!) to enable showing the highlight menu automatically when you highlight text. I don’t check out Kindle books, so I couldn’t try the first feature; the second one seems to work fine; as for the third, I didn’t see any difference in highlighting behavior between when I had it off and when I had it on, so I’m not sure what it was supposed to do.
Of course, the iOS Kindle app still has that one really big missing feature, that is necessarily absent due to Apple’s in-app purchase fees. You can’t browse and buy ebooks from within the Kindle app; you can only download books you’ve already bought via the web browser or another platform. Given that Amazon built its whole ebook business on making things easy for customers, this degree of awkwardness in the purchasing interface feels all the more jarring. But that’s Apple’s fault, not Amazon’s.
In any event, if you’re going to read DRM-laden Kindle ebooks or magazines on an iPad or iPhone, you’re not going to be using some other app to do it. And given that the biggest new features only work with official Amazon Kindle content, it’s not as if it’ll make any difference if you’re mainly interested in loading non-Kindle titles. If you’re reading DRM-free non-Amazon ebooks and want to be able to scroll, you might as well just use Marvin for that.
Still, it’s nice to see Amazon’s continuing to develop its iOS app. And if you are reading Kindle books, it’s nice the app continues to look so good.
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