Kindle's New Challenger Brings E-Books to iPhones

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Amazon's new E Ink-powered Kindle 2 is all the rage right now, but a Canadian bookseller is confident it can give you the same experience on your smartphone, and without the hefty pricetag.

Shortcovers -- occasionally touted by its makers as "the Kindle Killer" -- is set to launch in the coming days as an app for the iPhone, the BlackBerry, and the Android operating system. So can it really live up to its king-sized claims? Read on and decide for yourself.

An Expanded E-Book Reader

Shortcovers is owned and operated by Indigo Books & Music, the largest book retailer in Canada. While smartphone-based e-book readers have been available in places like Apple's App Store for a while, it's Shortcovers' close ties to the publishing industry that set it apart from the pack. Because of the company's connections with major publishers, it's been able to secure the rights to brand new books that are often tough (if not impossible) to find on other services.

Like Kindle, Shortcovers will let you read the first chapter of any book free of charge. From there, the app offers you two options: You can either buy a chapter at a time, or opt to purchase the whole book. Single chapters are expected to cost around 99 cents a pop, while full books will range between $10 and $20, on average. If you decide you want to get a book physically shipped, you can do that, too.

Shortcovers says it'll have about 50,000 full books available upon launch, with another 200,000 individual chapters and excerpts in its library. Only a third of the titles will be public domain or copyright-expired works. The rest will be current commercial offerings.

Shortcovers plans to offer news and magazine articles, short stories, and blog posts in addition to the book content.

Kindle Comparisons

Compared to the Kindle, Shortcovers comes up a little short with the bells and whistles. You won't find a built-in dictionary, for example, nor will you be able to highlight text. There's no high-tech E Ink to make the pages look like real paper. The program's advantage, though, is its convenience: It's already right there in your pocket, so there's no need to tote around a second device. Fittingly, then, much of Shortcovers' publicity thus far has focused on the application's ability to let you read on-the-go -- a chapter here, a chapter there, wherever you happen to be.

As far as navigation, Shortcovers uses your phone's standard interface. With the iPhone, for example, you click onto your chapter of choice in a contents list, then scroll down the screen just like you do in other apps. Shortcovers allows you to adjust font size and choose from either standard or landscape mode on the phone. And, like the Kindle, it'll remember where you leave off in a book when you shut down, then bring you back to the same page when you return. You can go back and forth between reading on your phone and reading on the Shortcovers Web site with automatic synchronization as well.

The program offers some interesting social features, too, including a rating and sharing system, a tagging function, and a set of mashup tools in which you can build your own literary mixes. You'll even be able to upload your own writing and add it in.

The Long and Short of It

Shortcovers is scheduled to launch in the U.S. in late February, then in Canada shortly thereafter. Company exec Mike Serbinis talks more about the app and how it's come into existence in the following video interview with USA Today, conducted on the floor of last month's Consumer Electronics Show.

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