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.
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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.
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.
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.