Developer Workshop: Shortcovers

Developer Workshop is a series of profiles exploring the current state of the mobile marketplace from the point of view of the software developers mapping out its future. Each profile will focus on a developer with a compelling story to tell, and offer their perspective on what the industry's doing right, what it's doing wrong and how to make it better. The profiles will also explore the developer's creative philosophy--why they chose to write for mobile devices, how they hope their applications will impact the lives of consumers and their advice for aspiring developers. Check out our previous workshops on Shazam, InfoMedia, Viigo and Meet Now Live.

This week FierceDeveloper profiles Shortcovers, which enables consumers to sample and purchase new ebooks from publishers including Random House, HarperCollins and others as well as news and magazine articles, short stories and blog posts.

The recent launch of Palm's much-anticipated Pre smartphone also heralds the commercial debut of the manufacturer's webOS mobile operating system, but so far, few developers have been given the chance to create software for the new platform--Palm only released the Pre's Mojo SDK to a handful of preferred programmer partners. Among them: Shortcovers, a unit of Canadian bookseller giant Indigo Books & Music, which introduced its integrated e-reader application for free as part of the Pre's on-device beta App Catalog.

Shortcovers enables consumers to sample and purchase new ebooks from publishers including Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Penguin and Harlequin as well as news and magazine articles, short stories and blog posts--the application extends across the smartphone spectrum, with apps also optimized for the iPhone, BlackBerry and Android platforms and available for download via their respective application storefronts. Consumers can purchase new content on their mobile handset or on their PC, and shift their reading experience between their phone, desktop or laptop as necessary, picking up the narrative wherever they previously left off.

Shortcovers also is a prime example of the increasing importance of e-reader applications to traditional booksellers--in late March, Barnes & Noble-owned digital book retailer Fictionwise introduced its eReader for BlackBerry application, and about a month later, Amazon.com acquired mobile development startup Lexcycle, the firm behind the popular Stanza free e-reader app. FierceDeveloper spoke to Shortcovers product manager Jordan Christensen about the mobile e-reader space and developing for the Pre.


Jordan Christensen on the origins of Shortcovers: We're a division of Indigo Books & Music, which operates a number of big-box stores around Canada. About a year ago, the company started thinking about digital. We first launched the Shortcovers app on iPhone and BlackBerry, followed by Android, and now we've launched on the Palm Pre.

On the growing number of e-reader apps: We've definitely seen a tipping point in the market. The e-reader concept is not new--what is new is there are now a lot of new technical standards, and more and more people are carrying devices with high-resolution screens. Reading for a couple hours on your smartphone is now something you can do. As browsers get better, people are reading more.

On e-reader consumer habits: It's a mirror of what people are reading in the physical world. Shortcovers users download the same books that are on The New York Times bestseller list--the "Twilight" series, for example, or some of the more popular business books. It's mostly the same across the different platforms, although we do see more a business spin on BlackBerry. But for the most part, people want to read the same things on their phones as in everyday life.

On developing for the Palm Pre: The same team working on our Palm Pre application also works on our website--you can't say that about other devices. Writing for the Palm Pre takes the same skill sets as writing for the web--it's more standards-based than other platforms. We can do a lot of our development in Safari, as opposed to an emulator. We're very happy to available to Pre users--we're the only webOS e-reader application at launch. We've seen over 7,000 downloads [in the first week].

On advice for aspiring developers: Write for a platform you love. All of our developers carry and use and love the devices they work on. As soon as our Palm team got their hands on the Pre, they couldn't put it down. If you develop for a platform you love, you'll build a better app.