Apple has been working on a redesign of its e-book app for iPhones and iPads, in what could be the biggest upgrade to its e-book service in years, according to Bloomberg.
One recent indication is that the app is listed as “Books” instead of “iBooks” in the iOS 11.3 beta Apple released to developers last week.
The new app reportedly is undergoing testing and will be released in the next few months.
It will have a simpler interface that better highlights books currently being read in a section called “Reading Now,” and a redesigned digital bookstore that has a dedicated tab for audio books and looks more like the App Store redesign introduced last year.
Apple last month hired Kashif Zafar, a senior VP from Amazon’s Audible audio books business, possibly to lead its revived efforts in the e-books segment. Zafar previously was a content VP in Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader division.
Apple has been relatively dormant in the e-book market since it lost its Supreme Court appeal in 2016 against a ruling that imposed a US$450 million fine for engaging in e-book price-fixing.
That relieved pressure on Amazon, which controlled more than 80 percent of the market in the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as of early 2017, according to AuthorEarnings.
Apple claimed only 10 percent of those markets at the time.
However, Apple’s e-book app redesign is not likely to help it make any headway against Amazon, suggested Eric Smith, a research director at Strategy Analytics.
“Amazon and Google are redesigning their book and/or audiobook apps and portals this year as well,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
Consumers can purchase Kindle titles from Amazon using the Safari browser and deliver those titles to the Kindle reader on the iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.
Amazon “has a foothold with books in Apple’s ecosystem, and Amazon Music is pretty good,” remarked Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
“That gives Amazon the potential to eventually displace iTunes — and, if they get [books and music], their ability to help Apple users move to Amazon or Android alternatives goes up dramatically,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
Apple might gain some ground if it “pairs [the app] with new purchase or pricing options to lock people into its app instead of letting Amazon rule the content landscape,” Strategy Analytics’ Smith said.
Locking in users to the e-book app is a possibility, Enderle noted.
“Given Apple’s past practices of gating processors, denying competing apps, and crippling modems, it certainly is at least likely that they’ll move to cripple or block the Kindle book app,” he added.
Still, the problem is that Amazon is deeply entrenched.
“Once people have a lot of books on a service like Amazon or records on a service like iTunes, getting them to move is virtually impossible,” Enderle pointed out. “You have to find a way to bridge their licenses so that the switching cost is palatable.”
That said, people “generally only read books once, so you really only have to bridge their licenses for the rare book they might like to re-read and the books they’ve bought but haven’t read, rather than their entire library,” Enderle said.
Further, Apple’s installed user base might help. The company accounted for 14 percent of global smartphone volume in 2017, based on Strategy Analytics’ estimates, Research Director Linda Sui told the E-Commerce Times.
Then there’s the iPad factor.
“With the larger screen sizes that iPads provide, e-books are an extremely relevant source of content to give users a better hook to remain in the Apple ecosystem,” said Smith. “Users tend to spend more time performing a task on a tablet than on a phone.”