A review of Amazon’s enhanced audio/video Kindle books

I purchased one of Amazon’s enhanced Kindle books this morning–Rose’s Heavenly Cakes, because who doesn’t like video footage of cakes?–to see what it’s like to read an ebook with audio and video. Here are some cursory thoughts on the experience.

If you’ve ever purchased an enhanced ebook app from the App Store, the concept of an enhanced Kindle book will be familiar. In fact, I think this is basically a way for Amazon to get around Apple’s 30% cut of sales on the App Store, by selling the multimedia editions through the Kindle Store and then routing them to the consumer’s iDevice.

On the other hand, the best designed apps for iDevices are fast, fluid, and a pleasure to use. I didn’t find the enhanced Kindle book sluggish, but I also didn’t see any reason to choose it over a regular app. For one thing, a dedicated app can cull all the video clips or audio files and put them in an easy-to-reach menu for quick access, whereas on the Kindle book I have to jump to the correct page. I’m not convinced yet that a book metaphor is the most efficient approach when it comes to multimedia consumption.

Amazon states, “Due to large file size, Kindle for iPad/iPhone/iPod touch requires WiFi to download this title.” The company isn’t kidding about file size. The cake book that I purchased is huge–557 MB, or half a gigabyte. To put this into perspective, the Kindle 2 can only hold about 1.4 GB of files, so it could only hold 2 of these things. Even on a fairly speedy Wi-Fi connection this morning, it took over five minutes to download to my iPhone 3GS. I also noticed that you can’t download a back-up copy of the file to your computer from your account management page on Amazon.com–it looks like for now at least, there’s no way to get direct access to the file (for instance if you wanted to pull out the videos and store them separately).

Once loaded, the book opens like any other Kindle title. There are no special screens or extra menus.

Instead, when you come across an embedded video clip, you’ll see a “play movie” icon overlaid on the image. Click that and the movie will launch:


Screen shot of page from enhanced Kindle book, actual size.

It’s not quite seamless yet. The embedded videos don’t rotate when you turn the iPhone screen from portrait to landscape orientation. I managed to get the video to open in landscape if I already had the phone turned that way before launching, but as soon as I clicked the standard “fill screen” button, the video flipped back to portrait and refused to go back to landscape no matter what I tried.


Other than that, I can’t see much difference yet, although I’ll continue to play around with it.

Was it worth the $10? For me, probably not, but then again I don’t intend to bake a cake any time soon. It depends a great deal on the subject matter and your interests, I’m guessing. Instructional guides like cookbooks make sense, as do travel guides if they include things like walking tours or fly-through visualizations of museums and cathedrals. I’ll be curious to see what other genres try this out in the coming months.

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