What Amazon Should Do With Its Kindle iPad App


This week, the iPad app world is frantically sorting through some recent changes in its environment. Last Monday, Apple quietly altered its app approval policies in a way that will make publishers much happier. Specifically, Apple has relaxed control over whether apps can access content paid for outside of the App Store’s purchase APIs. The company has also allowed publishers to price however they want, both outside and inside of the app.

In the same week, FT.com released a subscription-based HTML5 web app intended for iPad users that bypasses Apple entirely, giving the publisher its own path to market that does not depend on or enrich Apple directly. The coincidence of these two events is not lost on most of us industry observers and is the topic of a Forrester report issued by my colleague Nick Thomas last Friday. In it, Nick explains why the FT’s move is probably the first of many such moves by the most recognized publishers, even with Apple’s newly announced policy reversal.

But while publishers figure out their next steps for their content apps, there’s one app that no one is talking about but I believe everyone should have their eye on. It’s the Amazon Kindle app. This app violates even Apple’s revised policies and will soon face a day of reckoning when Apple's June 30th deadline for compliance comes up. 

I don’t claim to know Amazon's plans, but I will claim to tell Amazon what it should do:

  1. Release an updated, compliant App Store app, with a little attitude. Amazon should release an app that complies with Apple’s new rules but with no Buy button at all. Instead, it should be positioned as a Kindle reading app where people who have purchased Kindle books elsewhere can read them on an iOS device. And the company should just let these readers know that although it would like to help them shop for and buy books, it is not allowed – as per Apple’s policy – to do so. This is how the company handles eBooks it does not control pricing for, simply informing the customer that it’s not Amazon’s fault a digital book costs $12.99 when the hardback is available on Amazon for $13.99 (see Hillenbrand’s Unbroken for  an example of this).
  2. Release an amazing HTML5 “app” that gives Kindle readers everything Amazon has to offer. The challenges of HTML5 should be nothing for Amazon’s developers. Building an app-like experience for web browsers on any HTML5 device opens doors for Amazon to expand its customer relationship to include Netflix-style video streaming, paid VOD, and its cloud music service. Think of it as an Amazon iTunes store – not just a Kindle store – and now is the time to do it, while all eyes should be fixed on Amazon.

None of this deals with the hardware side of Amazon’s business, where the company is falling far behind rival Barnes & Noble which has two Nook devices that make Amazon’s current Kindle crop feel a bit like Palm Pilots. 


Amazon Kindle for Web

In December, Amazon announced the Kindle for Web beta.

See http://bit.ly/k4web-geb and that leads to Amazon's official page for it also...

A features comparison of the Nook Touch and Kindle 3 will show anything but the Kindle falling behind except to those who prize a touchscreen above *everything else* but yes, I imagine someday not far off, Amazon will offer a touchscreen Kindle for those folks.

Kindle and Nooks

I should add that I do have and enjoy a NookColor, for color magazines and portable color web browsing.

I don't use it for novels, even with the backlight dimmed. It's not relaxing. But it's great for the other.

The Nook Simple Touch is sorely missing features many of us do find important (and which were originally on the Nook 1), and the low contrast on that unit is not good. Only people who are used to a well-implemented Pearl screen will notice though. "Far behind" is truly a strange statement, prizing only one type of feature.
But you may be right that most people who haven't picked good e-readers by now will feel that way.

Won't disagree that Kindle 3 is awesome, but

I do have to say that a few weeks with the All New Nook (that's what they call it) has taught me that touch is the only way to go with these eReaders. A touch Kindle (4.0, one assumes) should be forthcoming because it is much, much easier to navigate, to mark and share, and make notes with (even easier than the little keyboard). I know it's subjective, and I do love and use my Kindle as well, but in terms of having a strategy that positions the company for the future, Amazon is clearly behind: no tablet and no touch=in catch-up mode.

A bit more

When I visited Barnes and Noble, I bought the NookColor on sight.

With the Nook e-Ink, which I see you enjoy very much, I found the touch was calibrated very well but I wasn't as enchanted.

I love the NookColor as a 7" reader/tablet and it of course has a touch screen. As far as design, the Nook Simple Touch (NST) didn't attract me because the screen fonts/text lack contrast against the background, relative to the other Pearl screen implementations.

They seemed very Gray to me and I tried out every font and most sizes but mainly sizes I would actually use and I looked at all kinds of books, including public domain ones to make sure embedded fonts were not the cause. This lighter font has been mentioned by others on the B&N forums.

The cursor-controller on the Kindle is clunky but also highly reliable. When I highlight on the Kindle, I can quickly do Begin/End characters. With touch screens, it is seldom right where I want it without trying a few taps. I can also touch the screen with a stray finger while holding it, and it'll activate a link and I'm suddenly somewhere else.

There have been Nook forum-threads on both the font darkness and the strange large jump in size between adjacent font sizes.

To be "far behind" one would normally consider what else one wants for the money spent.
It's not all about Touch and some don't even want that. But I Agree with you that it's a must-have for "the rest of the ereader buyers" who will likely want it, especially based on columns that say it's essential. Navigation IS quicker with it.

Other things some think about when avid readers are spending the money:
The Nook has no working web-browser anymore (for info lookup); no audio anymore; doesn't support Word Doc files, while the Kindle can send these to Amazon servers and they'll be converted and put on the Kindle by WiFi delivery at no charge; doesn't do more easily readable smaller-print landscape mode on books or PDFs; cannot zoom into book images (maps, diagrams) as the Kindle can, cannot adjust display contrast for PDF docs, cannot directly download - to the ereader - ebooks found on other sites because it has no browser as the Kindle does; does not provide for keeping of your annotations in your book on a personal and private customer-server-area where you can see your annotations by book, readable, copyable, printable -- and if if the B&N book is removed from the reader, there is no backup of your annotations, as there is at Amazon.

Those are just some points, and should be considered when making a general value judgment on a device as to being capable for modern needs.

I think there's too much emphasis on just pointing the finger (but then you're right that many will want that above all).

Annotations are important to some of us, as is getting personal and work documents or even web research easily onto our e-readers so we can read them offline too.

I say all this because you used the words "far behind" based on only one overriding factor.
Again, I agree that Amazon WILL need to have touch-based readers for those that do want them, but I'd rather there be more factors considered when judging one company's ereaders against another as 'ahead' ... But that would be advice for the buyer rather than just describing what we think the general buyer will want when buying their first reader. Surveys are important for that reason.

Still, sometimes it's worthwhile to mention to buyers that there are other factors when making a statement about how far ahead or behind certain e-readers are.

And, as you likely know, Amazon has not denied working on a tablet, and David Carnoy of CNet has said 3 times that he has reason to believe a touchscreen Kindle ereader will be ready by about September. In the meantime, Amazon tends to like to get the software in good shape first. Sync'g between devices is important and so far, that is not working on many new Nooks but updates can take care of that later. We customers tend to want more ASAP, but there are times I do prefer Amazon's slower movement. Sometimes not !

Thanks for allowing the conversation. Will say no more :-)

Amazon and HTML5

Good post, as usual.

The related, but bigger issue for Amazon, not yet much in the press, is how it will respond to EPUB3 announced in late May by the IDPF. EPUB3 mirrors the richness of HTML5 (and is partly built on its structure), and this fall will begin to usher in an era of e-books that look at-least-as-good-as-and-often-better-than their print counterparts. This is a big leap from the current era of smoothly-flowing text that chokes whenever is stumbles on anything but text.

Who supports for EPUB? -- EBA -- Everyone But Amazon. The current Kindle ebook format is Mobi which is built on the old all-too-basic Palm OS.

Amazon has to move in the direction of HTML5, and to do so by fall 2011. This is certain to factor into its long-term strategy for the iPad and for all other tablets (including its own).

I think amazon will try to stay away from EPUB

For as long as it can. Not because it's the right thing to do, but because they want to have some ownership of the market they essentially created. But such isolationism doesn't last in the long run.

ePub 3

Different subject, so I'd like to respond to this too.

Yes, re ePub, in some way. We know that Amazon bought Mobipocket and also, Lexcycle, which has Stanza, the focus of which is ePub, so I've wondered Why wouldn't they be working on enhancing MOBI format since we know what has been changed in ePub and what's needed and they have specific teams for both.

Overdrive has already said to its libraries that they're sold Titles rather than specific formats and that the user will be given the option of choosing a destination format, one of which is ePub and another, 'Amazon'...

Jay Marine, Kindle Director, told TheKindleChronicles' Len Edgerly that Overdrive library books will be delivered over Whispernet within 60 seconds and will not require additional software or software downloads. He responded they will not be using Adobe DRM and emphasized their interest was a seamless experience.

Maybe they'll have MOBI s/w in a place in which it'll be much better at rendering what is intended with ePub, and this could be what the publishers are said to be looking forward to.

The larger publishers, at least, have been submitting files in ePub since September 2010, and Amazon has converted them, although the results are anything but ideal. So it could be that they'll be able to get closer to what ePub can do, with an updated Mobi. Maybe I'm just dreaming.

Also, since customers get free conversions of personal or work DOC files and also html ones straight to their Kindles , Amazon may either do something like that for non-DRM'd ePub files or even directly support non-DRM'd ePub files.

The HTML 5 Kindle for Web was announced for eventual full-book reading on the web back in December, partly in response to Google's plans. So they're covering that base too, though it may take longer than people want.

Ditto what you say about needing that compatability for something like the strongly rumored Amazon tablets by winter (or earlier).

They bought TouchCo so long ago and aren't saying anything about what they are doing with its multi-touch capabilities, which are probably in the mix.

Also, 3G (or, better, free 3G that includes free experimental web-browsing -- much better when using the 'Article Mode' capability), was what made the Kindle a big success in 2007 (instant downloads anywhere) when the other readers required computers. All models before Kindle 3 had that.

None of the other readers have the wide-open free (and slow, which is why it can be free) 3g web lookups. That's a wonderful feature still, if one is patient (especially when lost and needing step-by-step driving instructions) and free 3G web-browsing is actually available in 60 countries while 100 countries get at least free wireless Kindle book downloads along with Wikipedia access.

B&N is not selling Nook books outside the U.S. yet. I thought Canada was involved but apparently not yet, last I heard. That's a big drawback. Even vacationers living in the US cannot buy Nook books while outside the U.S.

Many who opted for WiFi-Only models do miss the 3G once they experience where it could have been used if they'd opted for it. (Many actually thought it sort of exists the way cellphone networks do). Anyway, a lot of things for you to watch, survey and report on :-)

Keep them all on their toes.

Blog section

They should remove the button. Then add a blog section. The blog should discuss new books with links to those books in the Amazon webstore. Since the blog is not part of the application but rather dynamic content it should get past Apples filters.

They could do something similer with a banner addvertisements.