Nokia Lumia users in Europe can now download e-books from a dedicated hub for the Windows Phone 7 device, raising the question of whether people are ready to read books on the small screen of their smartphones.
Users of the Nokia Lumia 800, 710, 610 and the new 900, which was released last month to strong reviews as the flagship of Nokia and Microsoft 's smartphone collaboration , could already access location-aware navigation, photo editing, streaming radio and other content from the Nokia Collection of applications accessible from the Windows Phone Marketplace.
'World Class E-Book Experience'
The new Nokia Reading hub, offering searches in multiple languages, will allow "publishers, including Penguin and Hachette, and Pearson to launch a world class e-book and audiobook experience that's been designed specifically for the Nokia Lumia," the company said in a blog post.
Availability begins this week in France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom, with other countries to follow.
"While eBooks are becoming a common sight in countries like the U.S. and the UK, they are still in their infancy -- or basically unavailable -- in many parts of the world," writes Nokia's Ian Delaney in the company's Conversations blog. "And this is where the strength of Nokia Reading lies: in local language e-reading content."
E-books for the iPhone and Android devices are also available but Nokia stresses that their service is optimized for phone reading.
A key selling point of the new Nokia Lumia 900 is its ClearBlack AMOLED 480x800 touchscreen which allows visibility in direct sunlight, and Nokia says that will also make for optimal reading visibility. The 900 screen is 4.3 inches, while the 800 is only 3.7 inches.
But senior mobile analyst Mark Beccue of ABI Research told us it remains to be seen if smartphone reading will catch on or drive Lumia sales.
Not an Optimal Form Factor
"I think it's possibly a stretch," Beccue said. "If that was the case I think we would have seen an explosion of these products already in the marketplace. It's not really an optimal form factor for reading long books."
The Nokia blog post addresses the screen size issue: "If you've not read a book on a phone before, you may think that the words will be too small, but this isn't something you have to worry about. On a Lumia, the ClearBlack Display helps reduce reflections on the screen, and Microsoft's ClearType technology renders fonts cleanly, without jagged curves."
The type is resizable and the system has a night mode that makes the type white and background dark to reduce glare while reading in dim light or darkness.
Beccue said Nokia may have in mind markets outside the U.S. where the tablet and e-reader markets are soft.
"Maybe outside the U.S. it will be more appealing," he said.
Another consideration: Nokia and Microsoft are believed to be collaborating on a Windows-based tablet, and this could be a way to build a market for content in advance.
"That would make a lot more sense," Beccue said. "That's exactly what Amazon did when they started an app store. You had to jump through hoops to get them on a smartphone, but then they came out with the Kindle Fire."