Amazon dodges Apple’s content rules with web-based Kindle Reader

Aug 10, 2011
Tech

Amazon (AMZN) may have found a way to get the best of Apple (AAPL) and its iTunes App Store rules by launching a new web-based Kindle Cloud Reader specifically designed for the iPad. Back on June 30, Apple started enforcing rules on developers in the App Store regarding apps that sell content. The rules first […]

Amazon (AMZN) may have found a way to get the best of Apple (AAPL) and its iTunes App Store rules by launching a new web-based Kindle Cloud Reader specifically designed for the iPad. Back on June 30, Apple started enforcing rules on developers in the App Store regarding apps that sell content. The rules first originated for subscription-based apps like those for magazines and newspapers, but Apple extended them to include all apps that use content sold by outside services – in this case, including e-reader apps that sell e-books in web-based stores, as Amazon does for its Kindle app.

The original rules required any app that sold content to also sell it through in-app purchase so that Apple would receive its 30-percent cut, and there were some more oppressive provisions about how content providers could price that content. Apple did away with those rules and settled for a compromise with developers. They wouldn’t be forced to sell their content through in-app purchase, but they couldn’t also direct iOS app users to web-based stores with buttons or links to circumvent paying Apple. Apps that didn’t follow the rules were removed from the App Store, and many notable and popular apps, such as Hulu, conformed to Apple’s standards.

Not Amazon, though. Its Kindle e-reader app in the iTunes App Store never changed to give Apple a cut of Amazon’s e-book sales. After June 30, Amazon disabled the web link that took users to its online store to buy more books, relying on users purchasing them through Amazon.com using a web browser like the iPad’s Safari, and then syncing their app with their Amazon account to transfer the book to the app. Now, Amazon has gone one better, launching a web-based Kindle reader that nullifies the need for an iOS app at all. You can check out the browser-based Kindle Cloud Reader here.

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Like with Amazon’s other Kindle app, Kindle Cloud Reader uses its Whispersync feature to keep track of information while you read, allowing customers to use multiple devices to read the same book. If you start reading on your computer browser, for example, then pick up Kindle Cloud Reader on the iPad, the apps remember what page you left off on using your Internet connection. Kindle Cloud Reader doesn’t require any installation, and according to Mashable’s story on the app, it works offline as well as on.

Kindle Cloud Reader is built in HTML5 and optimized for the iPad’s Safari browser and, like the former iOS Kindle app, includes direct links that allow users to purchase new books from Amazon. The Kindle app in the App Store is still valid – it continues to sync with Amazon to upload new books to your iOS devices and to keep track of your reading – but it’s a lot less convenient than its web-based counterpart.

It’s fairly probable that Amazon’s next step will be to create an HTML5 Kindle Cloud Reader optimized for the iPhone. While that’s in the works, the presence of the Kindle Cloud Reader raises some significant questions about how other developers might respond. Other e-book distributors like Barnes & Noble, for example, may choose to follow suit if it becomes clear that Amazon’s web-based end-run around Apple’s rules is successful.

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Just how well Amazon can get its browser-based reader app to work for most iOS users is also a pretty solid test of the viability of HTML5 as a replacement for native apps. There’s an ongoing debate about whether the world is on the verge of seeing developers move to web-based HTML5 apps instead of creating apps custom-built for mobile devices. Right now, native apps are winning easily, but a real-world test of something like the Kindle Cloud Reader might show developers that they can make cool apps for Apple’s devices without having to pay Apple for the privilege.

That doesn’t take into account how Apple may respond to the Kindle development, though.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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