Kindle Apps: You're No Apple Tablet

Kindle Apps: You're No Apple Tablet

Summary: With other more versatile MID platforms on the horizon, such as the Apple Tablet and new form factor Android devices, is Amazon two years too late with their Kindle Development Kit?


Amazon announced the pending availability of a Kindle Development Kit (KDK) that will allow developers to exploit the Kindle's 3G wireless with light, text oriented mobile data applications suitable for e-Ink, such as Twitter, ZAGAT restaurant listings, stock quotes and email. But with other more versatile MID platforms on the horizon, such as the Apple Tablet and new form factor Android devices, is Amazon two years too late?

So, Bezos, lemme get this straight. You waited TWO YEARS to launch a Kindle developer program, a week before Jobs launches iPad/iSlate/Jesus Tablet?

Talk about too little, too late.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

When the Kindle first launched in November of 2007, and when the second model came out in February of 2009, I made repeated pleas to Amazon to open up their device for software development. I even made a bunch of suggestions as to how the platform could be improved and development could be facilitated by moving to a more open stack such as Android.

But did they listen? Oh no. Their competitor, Barnes and Noble went the Android route, and we expected great things from them. But like Amazon, B&N has not officially opened their device up for application development, although it is beginning to get a small Android hacker following. Note to Barnes & Noble: Get your Nook SDK and real developer program out. Stat!

When I spoke to Amazon folks at various press events related to Kindle in the last two years about the possibility of opening the thing up to development, I got the usual dismissive  corporate response which was "Oh, we just want to build the best e-Book reader possible." My own editor-in-chief, Larry Dignan, who is a Kindleholic and probably needs to be sent into Amazon e-book rehab, agreed with this analysis at the time.

O RLY? Then why open it up for software development NOW? Why not stick with your guns? Why the sudden urge to transform the Kindle into a Mobile Internet Device (MID) with more than just eBook functionality?

Could it be... APPLE? Tahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhblet?

Now, I'm not saying that extending Internet services to the Kindle and similar devices, like the Nook and Sony's Reader Daily Edition are necessarily a bad thing. I wanted them to do it then and I still want it now.

But c'mon guys, you had TWO YEARS in advance of Apple to make some real progress and seed the market with some apps. We could have all been running FaceBook and Twitter and GMail TWO YEARS AGO on Kindles. But you stonewalled us, and now you are going to pay the price for your arrogance.

In the just over two years since the original Kindle was launched, Google's Android OS has progressed tremendously, and Apple's iPhone ecosystem has become a self-sustaining monster, even though it has hit a number of bumps with its developers who are looking at HTML5/Webkit as a possible alternative to dealing with the acceptance and development turn-around process.

I think it is safe to say that developers are going to have to make some pretty hard choices over what platforms they are going to spend their energies on in the next two years, and significant changes in the technologies used for eBooks and MIDs are going to heavily influence those choices.

From all hacker accounts, the Kindle uses a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) sitting on top of a Linux kernel to run its user environment. Fundamentally, this is not entirely different as to how Android works, as Google's Dalvik run time environment is also a JVM, although it uses incompatible bytecode to "Kosher" Java.

The BlackBerry also uses a J2ME JVM, so there is at least the possibility of some cross-platform development occurring if the right tool sets are applied, but I have to think that most of the small development shops out there are not thinking cross-platform, they're targeting the platforms which have critical mass and can make them the most money.

As successful an eBook platform the Kindle may be -- which Amazon is still cagey in releasing actual sales figures for -- it's no match in terms of audience when compared to Android or BlackBerry, and certainly nowhere near striking range of iPhone OS, which is presumably what sits at the core of iPad.

Also Read: Managing iWhatever Expectations

The advantage that Kindle has as an application platform can be reduced to this: It will have a much longer battery life than anything Apple or an Android MID manufacturer can release today, due to its use of Vizplex e-Ink technology rather than a bright color LCD or AMOLED. And yeah, the Kindle will almost certainly be cheaper than whatever Apple comes up with next week.

That advantage will only be temporary, and it's questionable if the Kindle will really be able to execute applications particularly well, at least when compared with the Nook, which has the embedded CPU and system resources to run a full Android stack.

While we might only be able to expect 3 to 4 hours of continued use from the iPad, we will see at least a week of charge if not more out of Kindle, but that's not really important.

Initially, people will be buying iPads to use iPad Apps, browse the 'Net, plus read books, color magazines and consume other rich content near the home and high-bandwidth areas with Wi-Fi, whereas people will be buying Kindles primarily as a relatively inexpensive black and white book and newspaper reader they can travel with.

That is how things will go, for about a year or so, until which the rug will be pulled out from Kindle entirely by a technology paradigm shift.

What shift will that be? Transflective low-power dual-mode touchscreen technology, like the type coming out of Pixel Qi and a few other companies working on similar parts.

This "for about a year or so" prediction is assuming, of course, that Apple doesn't have an ace in the hole and doesn't come out with a Pixel Qi-based device next week, in which case Amazon and Barnes & Noble might as well kiss their asses goodbye. Did you notice that Pixel Qi's website notes that their first product is a 10.1" screen and they "recently began production"? Dum de dum dum.

Transflective dual-mode low-power screens will allow Apple and everyone else, including Amazon, to build truly multipurpose devices that can act as low-power eBook readers in COLOR, as well as perform as rich content MIDs such as the iPad or anything else Google and Android OEMs will come up with.

You won't NEED dedicated e-Book readers like Kindle or Nook anymore because you'd get a very similar performance envelope on power consumption to a Kindle with a much more capable device. And then spending $700-$800 on a iPad or a GooglePad starts to make a hell of a lot more sense then buying a $250.00 Kindle.

So if Amazon and Barnes and Noble are doomed, then what should they do? Well, I would suggest as our own Mobile Gadgeeter has proposed, that they start making their store content available to everyone who wants to buy eBooks, and call it a day on proprietary, unitasking e-book readers with questionable 3rd-party application usefulness when compared to something like iPhone/iPod Touch, the DROID, BlackBerries, the iPad or Android tablet.

Is Amazon and Barnes & Noble up for a rude awakening next week? Or do they have a year or so to get their affairs in order? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Mobility, Amazon, Software Development, Smartphones, Open Source, Mobile OS, Hardware, Google, Apple, Android, Tablets


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Amazon

    Sells ebooks for a lot of platforms now: iPhone, PC and soon Blackberry and Mac. Assuming they can get their App on the new iWhatever they will really be well positioned in the ebook "vendor" market. Not the ebook "reader" market, that market is going to prove fickle with so many competitors throwing out new tech faster than Amazon will be able to keep up. After that it's going to be a war of price, service, and features. IMHO I really don't think the Kindle is going to make a viable app platform.
  • Amazon is trying to save the Kindle before it burns.

    Also, there is no Apple Tablet.

    Regardless, the Kindle is being threatened by other e-books and I'm sure this Apple whatever has them worried as well.

    The Kindle needs to drop the price to $200, focus on books, and make money off the book sales. Adding other media is fine, but don't lose the focus on books. A Kindle done right could be amazing, but Amazon is trying to hard to be Apple. Amazon sells content not hardware, stop trying to regain you margins with high hardware prices.

    The Kindle should be used to motivate further Amazon repeat purchase. It should be an advertising and product selling platform. That would regain the lost margins on a low purchase price.

    If only Amazon were smarter about this they wouldn't need to worry about Apple or Sony. The only one who has content like Amazon is Barnes & Noble.
    • How much

      Does the Kindle cost to make? The only thing I could find listed manufacture costs at $185 for the kindle 2 not including the lifetime Wispernet access, granted it's an estimate and also doesn't take into account returns and warranty replacements. This was from April 2009 so it has probably dropped a bit. My point though is Amazon is probably NOT rolling in money from Kindle sales at the current prices.

      P.S. Given the Kindles price is the same as Nook and cheaper than the same size Sony (neither of which have the 3G wireless) I think we can safely chalk "the Kindle is overpriced" up to urban legend ;)
      • You're measuring on the wrong scale

        Compare it to paper back. The Kindle should be cheap and the e-books should cost more. The Kindle itself should be no more than $200. It should be an impulse buy item. Given Amazon's plethora of content they should be going after the margins in content sales, not device sales.
        • Eventually they might

          when the market is established. But right now they are establishing themselves
          as THE distributor of a new format and they are selling $9.99 bestsellers at a
          loss to do it. They are getting the big book buyers (current Kindle owners buy a
          lot of books) and they are hurting B&N by taking its most profitable customers.
          • But they could do so much more

            A low device price and decent advertising (Amazon already has that with their website) would rapidly establish a market instead of this trickle approach they are doing now.

            If Kindles were cheap more people would have them. If enough people had them, the loss on device cost would be nothing compared to the profit on e-book sales. If enough people had Kindles, Amazon could sell e-books at any price they wanted.

            The Kindle is not just a product, it is a platform for generating repeat sales. Amazon is missing that bigger picture here and someone is going to eat their lunch while they sleep.
  • RE: Kindle Apps: You're No Apple Tablet

    The Kindle was dead when it was introduced and I am so
    surprised that so many tech gurus gave the Kindle any life
    at all. How is this device any different from a whole series
    of mistakes from the PC Jr. to MCA technology to the
    Newton. Folks if it is limited in significant ways it will fail.
    The Kindle is a hobbled platform in so many ways that
    apps would make no difference.

    I have no idea if the Apple Tablet will grab mind share.
    The Microsoft Courier is equally remarkable for its book
    format and software demos. All I do know is that current
    e-book technology is dead.
  • On and On

    Enough - we don't even know what Apple will announce next week. Maybe another service pack users have to pay for (ha-ha).
  • RE: 29.95 EReader/$2.00 ebooks

    The ereader/tablets industry is in infancy stages. I predict that within 5 years your ereaders will be 29.95 and a ebook will be in the two dollar range.Tablets will be in the hundred dollar range.(and I will be unemployed) Yes I work in the mag and book distribution industry.

    First of all the electronic industry is a mature industry so the cost of the hardware will fall very quickly. Those of us here, old enough who lived thru the the introduction of calculators, beta/vhs, computers, to cell phones and what ever, can attest to how fast prices drop on our electronic toys, compared to when the electronic industry was in it's infancy.

    With a mature ebook industry at two dollars a book publishers and authors stand to make much more money per sale than they do today. Those magazines that you see at your local store every week or month that don't get sold get returned to the distributor for credit. (as of a year or two ago it was pegged at a 70 percent return rate) In return the publishers credit the distributor and the mags get shredded. Just think about the costs the publisher incurs with warehousing, printing and shipping their products. Not to mention the upkeep of equipment. The distributor's incur the same costs as the publishers as far as warehousing and shipping not to mention the cost of shipping and processing returns.

    The book end of the business works about the same way. Most of your 7.99 books simply get shredded by the distributor while the more expensive books get shipped back to the publisher. The reality is that one file on a computer can be shipped via the internet is much cheaper than trucking two hundred thousand copys around the country, that may or not be sold.
    • A smart company would take advantage of that now

      by selling the e-readers below costs while making up the difference in book sales and reducing the costs of manufacture as the tech matures.

      The key to making that work is having a vast collection of books to sell, and enough credit/cash to deal with the initial losses. Now who is in such a position?
  • Get off the Kindle's back

    I like it just the way it is. It was designed to serve a particular purpose, not to be another swiss army knife tablet computer device. The Kindle appeals to a different, older demographic of users who just want to use it for accessing and reading books, newspapers and magazines. The iPad and similarly ambiguous devices are for a younger demographic.
  • RE: Kindle Apps: You're No Apple Tablet

    I'm not sure if what you are suggesting is a good idea. It will turn out to be yet another screen surface to extend time wasters that one typically does on PCs and smart phones. I'd much rather prefer Kindle to be a dedicated e-Book reader so that I don't have to worry about how to lock all the extra features for my kids when I present one to them. I just want it to replace books and nothing else. Any improvements should only target: price of books, easier delivery mechanism, enhancing reading experience etc. It should be a dedicated device towards books and news articles only and nothing else.
    • At $150.00 or less, maybe.

      But not at the prices Amazon is charging for the device.
  • The Triumph of Property

    If you like what Apple can do relative to Kindle, then do
    you endorse their model for doing it? Or just resent the
    success? I ask because the grand egalitarian experiment
    has failed to deliver a few times this month already.

    There is an elephant in the room. You can't dismiss the
    Apple success as a triumph of marketing anymore. This
    will be their victory for many reasons. Those reasons do
    include a closed and mercurial business model, secrecy,
    vertical integration, and an ability to provide incentives to
    developers both internally and externally. It has everything
    to do with property. It has very little to do with the public
    domain or openness. The Kindle is currently saleable,
    successful and appealing. The extent to which it is these
    things, may coincide with the extent to which it is closed,
    and not the extent to which it is open.

    It may also be time to acknowledge that Apple successes
    are because of their model and not in spite of it.

    These approaches are not mutually exclusive. Unlike
    Microsoft, Apple is, so closed as to not require Linux to fail
    for it to succeed.
  • Bravo Perlow!

    Welcome to the Apple's blogger payroll. Do your job and
    attack furiously Apple's competition. Well done, serve your
    master Jobs and you'll be rewarded.