Kindle Cloud Reader: a closed system?

Article  by  Marc JAHJAH  •  Published 14.10.2011  •  Updated 17.10.2011
Capture d'écran Kindle Cloud Reader
Launched during the summer, the Amazon cloud reader application is a robust response to Apple’s pricing policy.
Apple had issued its warning: starting 30th June 2011, all applications on its App Store which do not comply with its new clauses would be deleted. Up until then, to avoid paying a 30% commission to the company on every sale, application publishers had found a way round: proposing a link, from their application, leading to an e-book boutique on the Web independent of the App Store, so as to remain in control not only of all the commissions but also of the user data. However, now that the iPhone and the iPad are available round the world and Apple has hooked enough users and as many potential customers, it can once again lay down the law. Henceforth, players that do not use “in-app” purchasing – in other words, those who set up a system to entirely circumvent Apple – will be cut off the iPhone and iPad market.

And the company is not kidding. While no sanctions were applied at the outset, very quickly, applications publishers began complying. In this way, the digital book distributor Kobo, the booksellers Barnes & Noble and the Wall Street Journal no longer authorise users to buy directly from their applications. Customers must go to the website of the company concerned to make their purchases, a series of operations that multiply the steps required to access content, increasing inconvenience for users. The major distributors are well aware of the shortcomings of this kind of arrangement and have quickly counter-attacked. Accordingly, Kobo has announced that it is preparing an application in HTML5 [+] NoteLike a Flash application, HTML5 provides advanced functionalities: book annotation, synchronisation, etc.X     [1] accessible from a simple Web browser, like Safari, unlike applications created with Flash technology, excluded from the Apple pads. Every iPad or iPhone user will soon be able to buy their digital books without Kobo needing to worry about a commission payment being made to Apple. A decisive strategy, it would appear, judging by the early success of the Financial Times (100,000 subscribers via its web application), which also opted for the same solution.

Amazon understood, well before Apple set up its rules, the dangers there might be in being too closely bound up with the latter’s platform. Kindle for the web was an early attempt to break away from a restrictive operating system.

The service was launched in September 2010 and allowed extracts from a book to be posted on any blog. But with the establishment of the Kindle Cloud Reader, Amazon has taken its project a step further. After synchronisation, readers are now able to read books purchased at the Kindle boutique from their web browser (but only those of Apple – Safari – and Google – Chrome – are currently compatible). Well designed, though basic (inability to import one’s own e-books without carrying out synchronisation, for example), the Amazon application forms part of a broader movement, that of reading in the browser, recently promoted by the conference   “Books in Browser”.

Ideally, the text, encapsulated in an HTML5 application, can be selected, copied and manipulated, and benefits from all the plug-ins developed for a Web browser (like Diigo) – unlike Flash applications, which limit reading to closed iPad applications. But for Amazon, which has just launched a social network in which  users’ reading practices are taken into account and accentuated (annotations and underlined passages), the authorisation of this feature would mean losing precious data essential to the proper functioning of the service grading system (a rating system that distinguishes the most active readers).

This would explain how the Kindle Cloud Reader functions still come to be dependent on the Kindle application, available on tablets, E-readers and mobile phones, as well as how, although this was originally avoided with the iPad, we find ourselves confronted once again with a closed and limited system.   

Translated from the French by Christopher Edwards.
Photo Credits: Screenshots of the homepage of the Kindle Cloud Reader and service.
  • 1. Like a Flash application, HTML5 provides advanced functionalities: book annotation, synchronisation, etc.
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