Amazon Kindle Apps: They'll flop, but welcome to the land of competition

It is abundantly clear that the days of the black and white, vanilla, paperback substitute e-reader are numbered. The pending release of the KDK should be welcome news to educators, suggesting that the promise of e-readers and MIDs is right around the corner and countless hardware and software companies are scrambling to beat Amazon at its own game.

With the announcement of a "Kindle Development Kit", Amazon signaled their panic over an increasingly competitive e-reader market in which ubiquitous access to e-books, though convenient, is hardly enough to stay on top. Fellow ZDNet blogger, Jason Perlow, panned the effort as too little, too late.

From an Ed Tech perspective, however, this is a real windfall. It's a good thing in our world, not because the apps on the Kindle will be terribly compelling or finally bring us the e-textbooks with smart DRM for which we've been asking, but because it signals a new level of competition. Jason summarizes the prospects for successful apps on the Kindle quite nicely:

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.

Larry Dignan makes a similar argument:

...if Kindle users decide they want more out of their apps Amazon’s device may look a bit dated. For instance, the Kindle doesn’t have color. Web browsing is so-so at best. Simply put, there are a few limitations with the Kindle. Clearly, these apps won’t be like iPhone games. Will Kindle users live with that?

I firmly believe that Kindle's limitations (and user expectations) are such that any foray into apps will be limited at best and dismal failures at worst. The Kindle is a fine substitute for a stack of paperbacks and my 7-year old is thrilled that he can hand me a couple bucks and I'll download just about any book he might want instantly. If it's apps you want, then you should probably look elsewhere.

That's not really the point as far as I'm concerned, though. It is abundantly clear that the days of the black and white, vanilla, paperback substitute e-reader are numbered. Amazon is hardly the only game in town and plenty of MIDs/slates/tablets are rushing to market at aggressive price points that will make the Kindle irrelevant in education (and in plenty of other markets). A few apps on a grayscale e-ink screen can't compete with wide-open development platforms (and I include Windows in that group) that can support the next phases of 1:1 and digital learning.

E-ink isn't dead and neither is Kindle. Not by a long shot. But the pending release of the KDK should be welcome news to educators. The promise of e-readers and MIDs is right around the corner and countless hardware and software companies are scrambling to beat Amazon at its own game. The limitations inherent in the Kindle (and other 1st-generation devices) will be addressed in a variety of ways. Perhaps just as importantly, they'll need to be addressed much sooner than later by Amazon in a much more aggressive way than opening up development on the Kindle. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to leverage all of the content to which Amazon has access/distribution rights in an innovative device that meets educational needs better than the Kindle has ever been able? It's coming...Apps are just a stopgap as Kindle enters the world of fierce competition.