I've been testing Oyster (free, App Store) for the past few days and it's an impressive little iPhone app. Many have referred to Oyster as "the Netflix of ebooks," and it's a good analogy. The app allows you to read books, from a library of 100,000 in-copyright titles, on your iPhone ala iBooks or Kindle.
The difference is that instead of buying books individually, you can buy a subscription to Oyster for $9.95 per month and read all the books that you want on your device, just like Netflix (movies), Audible (audio books) and Spotify (music). The only catch is that the service is in private beta at the moment, so you'll need an invite code to join. The good news is that Oyster is accepting names at its website and rolling out invitations regularly. The bad news is that it hasn't announced when the service will be publicly available.
The Oyster library includes over 100,000 in-copyright titles in numerous genres from bestsellers and classics, to sci-fi and biographies. Paid subscribers select five books they might like during setup and Oyster's recommendation engine learns about what you love and hate over time based on the books you read. Oyster also offers a series of hand-curated Editor's Picks to choose from.
There's also a social component that allows you to favorite a title. If you're looking for a recommendation you can follow other users and browse their libraries. You can also share books and activity to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
In my testing I read a number of books including Good to Great to Gone: The 60 Year Rise and Fall of Circuit City by Alan Wurtzel, Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely and Onward by Howard Shultz. The Oyster interface is beautiful and clean, pages are turned with a simple swipe up and you can choose between five preset reading modes with different paper colors and fonts. You can also easily change the font size and brightness.
- Deep catalog of 100,000 titles that's growing daily
- Offline browsing so that you can read books on the plane and train
- Smooth UI and beautiful design
- HarperCollins is the only big-five publisher on the list. Oyster says it's in active conversations with all the major publishers
- No iPad version currently, but one coming in fall
- No multi-device sync, but this is coming with the iPad version according to Oyster
Oyster's a slick app that bookworms will appreciate and that will give Kindle and iBooks a run for their money. It's still in private beta and desperately needs an iPad version, but those will come in time.