Smartphones: The Next Home of the Ebook?

POSTED ON Feb 28, 2011

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

Home > Blog > E-Books & Readers, Self-Publishing > Smartphones: The Next Home of the Ebook?

You can’t imagine Captain Kirk (of Star Trek fame) going anywhere without his communicator, can you? One device, so many uses. I was a kid who loved science fiction and tales of the possible future, and the communicator was a dream that wouldn’t die. Someday there would be a magic something sitting in our pockets and purses, a device we couldn’t imagine that would make life better in every way.

Now, principally thanks to Apple, we have these devices: iPhones and all the other smart phones that jumped onto the mobile highway once Apple had showed them the onramp.

“There are more than 200 million active users [40 percent] currently accessing Facebook through their mobile devices. People that use Facebook on their mobile devices are twice as active on Facebook as non-mobile users.” – Facebook official statistics (January, 2011).

I just made my first transaction by smartphone. You’ve probably been doing this for ages, but I just got the Starbucks app and used it at the register to pay for a black coffee and a croissant. I waved the phone at the scanner, which beeped, and I was on my way.

Since the 1990s I’ve been trying to find a personal organizer or to do list or task manager that would help me just remember tasks and deadlines and help me stay on track. Many looked good for a couple of weeks, only to get left as just another chore I could live without.

But the smartphone solved that problem for me too. I’ve got an automatically synchronized calendar, appointment alerts, scheduled email, alarms, and anything else that will help keep things straight and on time. And I have it with me all the time.

The top 5 smartphone manufacturers—Nokia, RIM, Apple, Samsung and HTC—sold over 140,000,000 smartphones in 2010 (IDC)

It’s partly the intimate connection we’ve nurtured with our wireless phones. You can forget your Day Runner, leave your Starbucks card in the car, and neglect to bring enough money with you, but you’re not leaving your house without your phone, are you?

How Content Creators Can Profit

This is where it starts to get interesting for content creators like self-published authors. As more people get used to the bright screens and beautiful resolution on today’s smartphones, reading apps are likely to get more and more use. Although reading on the phone hasn’t broken into the top 10 activities of mobile users, the quick growth of ebooks looks like it will accustom people to reading on devices just like their phone.

iBooks for self-publishers

iBooks - Click to enlarge

Combine this with the growing percentage of users who rely solely on a mobile device like a smartphone, and don’t have another computer of any kind. Some estimates put this figure at 25% of smartphone users in the U.S. There’s no doubt that the smartphone and the tablet are making major inroads into our technology habits.

Hungry, Hungry iPhone

Look, the iPhone has already eaten:

  • my iPod
  • our snapshot camera
  • a nice GPS unit
  • my entire 2GB+ photo collection
  • our Scrabble board and dictionary
  • my online recipe collections
  • my Paypal account that runs my business
  • the daily newspaper delivery

Hungry little bugger, eh?

Yesterday it ate my Starbucks card, which popped up in its new identity as a scannable QR code displayed on the screen of my phone. If it can eat my other plastic the same way, the only thing left in my wallet will be a driver’s license and some folding money.

In this environment, ebook readers like Stanza, iBooks, Amazon’s Kindle app, and the nook are going to become more and more popular.

Another lesson from Starbucks: What’s the first thing people do when they walk in and see a line? Take out their smart phones.

Text in readers, whether you call it a book or something else, text that’s chunkable and scannable, is perfectly suited to mobile engagement where you become a reader of convenience, finding odd moments to fill. Got two minutes to wait for your dry cleaning? Check out the latest from, just the right amount of time.

Even for longer reading I find the phone a perfectly usable format. The Stanza screen gives you a “page” of about 100 words, which will take you about 15 seconds to read. A typical page in a printed book has about 300-350 words. I don’t find that a great leap. iBooks adds page headers and page numbers, but still manages about the same amount of text.

Getting Onto The Smartphones

There are two ways to get your content onto smart phones:

  • ebooks, which are typically converted from files for print books into a version of HTML, and which are sold through Amazon’s Kindle store, Apple’s iBookstore, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store and many other ebook retailers on the web.
  • apps like Lee Foster’s great travel book applications, which are created by software developers as stand-alone programs and which are sold through the app store for each smartphone platform.

I’m going to be investigating both these avenues. Take a look at this simple but effective app marketing guru Chris Brogan published. It’s a great way for people to stay engaged with your content. This shows there are many ways to use this platform besides just selling ebooks.

No matter what your plans are for digital publishing in 2011 and beyond, smart self-publishers are making sure to include the smartphone market in their plans. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that the convenience, power and intimacy of mobile computing are going to make this the fastest-growing segment of the market. I want to make sure our content is there, too.

Photo: Apple

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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