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Kindle Cloud Reader: First impressions

We woke up this morning to a little birdie tweeting news that Amazon had released a web-based “cloud” app for reading Kindle books: Kindle Cloud Reader.

First things first: For those planning on using this with an iPad via Mobile Safari, make sure to click on the “Add to Home Screen” bookmark button to install a one-click Cloud Reader web app. You can, of course, use Mobile Safari instead — but you’ll be stuck with a visible toolbar if you do.

(Seems like something Amazon should make more clear.)

Cloud Reader also works with Chrome and Safari for Mac OS X, but let’s be real: This is about the iPad.

The first thing we noticed is that it’s not very stable — we’ve experienced crashes both in Mobile Safari and the Cloud Reader web app. (We’re using iOS Beta 5, so we suspect the crashing is beta related, more than anything else. We’ll have to wait and see if those running iOS proper have the same issues.) Scrolling and page turning and initial loads are definitely slower than in the native app, as well.

Not surprising, really: Welcome to the Cloud.

"Cloud" in Cloud Reader means that your books aren’t actually stored locally on your device. They’re loaded from Amazon’s servers, on the fly, as you read them. It is possible to download books for offline reading, but this is a book-by-book operation, and must be done in advance, or you’re out of luck.

Given all that, why use Cloud Reader instead of Amazon’s native app? 

There’s an integrated Kindle store, and it’s way better than using Mobile Safari to browse the Kindle store on an iPad, because it’s “optimized” for tablets.

That’s it, really. 

You can probably see where this is going: Apple recently put the kibosh on linking away to an app store for purchases, so Amazon hits back by releasing a web app that lives outside Apple’s App Store rules. (Feel free to insert the word “draconian” into that last sentence, if it’ll make you feel better.)

Pundits see this as Amazon’s salvo against Apple, but Apple has always supported (and even encouraged) web app development as an alternative to the “closed” nature of developing for the curated App Store. Native Apps are subject to Apple’s rules, web apps are not. This is no surprise attack. And, ultimately, it means that Kindle reading has a guaranteed home on the iPad. Burn! Apple must be so angry!

The upshot, though, is that Kindlers now have a decent buying experience on the iPad and Amazon now has a viable alternative to developing native iOS apps if’n ever they decide playing by Apple’s rules is more trouble than it’s worth.

Don’t hold your breath.

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So long Kindle Store button; we hardly used you.

The sudden removal of the “Kindle Store” button in Amazon’s iOS Kindle app is getting a surprising amount of coverage, given that Apple issued the infamous “our way or the highway” ultimatum months ago. Still, the reminder that such a button once existed prompted us to ask the following question on Twitter:

iOS Kindle users: How often do (did) you actually click the “buy” link to get to the Kindle store, anyway?

We’re certainly not going to argue that the response is scientific, or even statistically telling, but it does support our general hunch — and our own usage patterns — which is that not many people were actually making use of the button even when it was available:

timdanner

Never. Normal for me: find a book on amazon.com, send sample to my Kindle 2, then (maybe) buy book from there. Add to iOS later.

CleaveLands

I’ve never used it.

kyleslattery

Never. I’ve also never bought a book from my Kindle. Browsing on my Mac is just a way better experience.

sparrowlight

Maybe 20 times total in 2 years of using the app.

megsleigh

It never worked for me.

brookstravis

Never.

We did have one dissenting response:

maxlexi

alot

In fairness, app store reviews for the new “buttonless” version of the iOS Kindle app are overwhelmingly negative, many falling in at one star. Given the publicity, though, that’s to be expected. App Store reviewers are a harsh mistress.

Amazon undoubtedly has click-through reports which would validate the presence of the now defunct button, assuming it was ever seeing a lot of use. Amazon didn’t put up much of a fight, though. Perhaps our hunch is correct and they can’t be bothered to defend a feature that no one was using?

SplatF’s Dan Frommer (formerly of Silicon Alley Insider) weighed in on the change:

This is a worse customer experience. Amazon’s service — and Apple’s devices — are now slightly harder and clumsier to use. And it’s Apple’s fault.

Anil Dash echoes that sentiment on Twitter:

Now that my Kindle and Kobo apps have lost their “buy” buttons, my reading experience is so much better! Thanks, Apple!

Is the experience now worse, though? 

If anything, it seems inelegant to expect a user to launch the Kindle app in order to push a button which then launches Mobile Safari. Why not just launch Mobile Safari in the first place? Better yet, why not create a home screen bookmark that links directly to the Kindle Store? (Amazon even made an iOS friendly icon for this purpose.)

Kindle Store in Mobile Safari > Add to Home Screen > There is no step 3.

You’re welcome.