Amazon hones Kindle store for iPhones

The move could signal Apple tablet in the works, says analyst

Amazon today launched a version of its Kindle digital download store specifically designed for Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch, the bookseller announced.

The move may signal that the company is prepping for a new Apple device, a tablet-like "tweener" larger than an iPod Touch but smaller than a notebook, one analyst speculated.

Amazon has tailored the Kindle store to the Safari browser included with the iPhone and iPod touch so that users can simply scroll through lists of available books, without having to constantly zoom in and out of the browser view. Users reach the Kindle store by tapping the "Get Books" button in the upper-right of the application that Amazon launched March 4.

"The most common feedback we heard from customers was that they wanted a better experience for purchasing new Kindle books from their iPhones," acknowledged Ian Freed, vice president of Kindle, in a statement. "We've been working hard to respond to that feedback with a new Web site optimized for Safari on iPhone."

"This indicates that they're getting some serious business from the [iPhone/iPod Touch] channel," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "And since Apple is requiring all [iPhone/iPod Touch] apps to be iPhone 3.0 compliant, they may have needed to make some changes anyway."

Another possibility: "Amazon may be preparing for a new Apple device that they know about," said Gottheil, who, in a turn-about from 2008, now believes that Apple's next major hardware announcement will be something he's described as "an iPod Touch on steroids," not a knock-off that directly competes with Windows-powered netbooks.

"Apple's objective is not to take a piece of the netbook market but to grow its own market," Gottheil said in a previous interview. "They're thinking they can tear off some piece of the portable, price-sensitive, Web-browsing and, now, e-book [reader] market," he said.

"Remember, Amazon has been pretty explicit that they'll deliver [a] Kindle [reader] on other devices," Gottheil said today. "The long-term benefit of the long-term prospect of being the prime e-book seller outweighs any short-term profit they make on the sale of the Kindle itself."

Amazon claims 280,000 titles in the Kindle store, including 106 of the 112 titles on the New York Times bestseller list. Most just-released books sell for $9.99.

Kindle for iPhone can be downloaded free of charge through Apple's iTunes App Store. It requires an iPhone or iPod Touch running iPhone 2.1 or later.

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Gregg Keizer

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