Fans of ABC News can now get their content directly from the source using their Kindle Fire without the hassle of using the website. ABC decided it was time to optimize their Android application for the Kindle Fire in order to cater directly to owners of the most popular Android tablet to date.
What this means for users is that they can now get anything they want from ABC’s recent content in a format optimized for the Kindle Fire’s 7” screen. The wider reaching implication is the vote of confidence this represents. It might not be much of a stretch for ABC to decide that it’s worth their time to work with the most widely owned budget tablet on the market, but it does count for something that they did so at a time when many are declaring the end of the Kindle Fire thanks to Google’s Nexus 7 competitor.
The app itself is fairly nice. Users get browse their news under a number of headings. Each story is presented with both title and basic summary. There are even images on the selection screen in cases where the story includes either photos or video. It’s quite intuitive. These headings are presented on a looping ribbon at the top of the home screen. By sliding the ribbon, more options become available.
These headings do include local content, show-specific content, and video selections. That should make it easier for regular viewers to find what they need. The shows highlighted include Good Morning America, World News, Nightline, and 20/20, among others. Local news is available from Chicago, Fresno, Houston, LA, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Raleigh, San Francisco, and Sarasota. General video content appears to be drawn directly from the website.
While this is a very usable app, there are some small issues. The most significant is the lack of orientation control. All text and image-based news content is displayed in portrait mode, as are all menus. Video content, on the other hand, is displayed only in landscape mode. This can be jarring and really has no business being the case, given that the Kindle Fire’s screen is more than capable of displaying both types of content in either mode with no loss of quality or usability.
Some might also be put off by the advertising. While this is a free app, most videos and seemingly all photo slideshows include ads. Since most of these ads lack the user interface elements that are shown while browsing the content they appear amidst, it can be confusing to determine what exactly needs to be done to dismiss them.
Overall ABC News has released a strong app that caters to existing fans. If you don’t already follow the network, there is little here that will persuade you to start. On the other hand, there is absolutely nothing to complain about when comparing the app to other similar offerings. We can hope that when the next generation of Kindle Fire is released, the ensuing popularity will encourage ABC to put some effort into making their program even better.
One of the biggest problems with making games for Android devices like the Kindle Fire is that it can be very difficult to create a framework around them. Yes, there are plenty of stand-alone titles to choose from, but if you’re talking about anything competitive or social then that means potentially huge investments in technology beyond the app itself.
Many app developers have found shortcuts around this problem. Among the more popular is a service called OpenFeint. The service provides a relatively easily integrated social gaming platform with a fairly large established user base ready to draw on, but it also runs into issues. The company running the service has been accused of privacy violations, sharing user personal information with advertisers, and monitoring user activity outside of games.
The lawsuits regarding those complaints and more are still pending. Whether you believe that the company is a problem or not, though, clearly the adoption of the platform can cause problems for a developer. You need only look at some of Amazon’s previous “Free App of the Day” selections to see how it affects reviews, especially among Kindle Fire users.
Many have felt the need to incorporate that platform, or something similar to it, in order to provide features like competitive scoreboards and other social features without the need to create an independent support structure for them. Amazon, fortunately, has provided a better option.
On July 11th, they announced the new GameCircle service. A series of APIs are now available to developers that allow them to build in achievements, leaderboards, and cloud saving. It has already been included in a number of popular games, including Temple Run and Triple Town, thanks to a successful beta run involving those developers.
Achievements are a natural way to increase time spent in a given game. They have become common enough that just about any user will recognize them and they provide arbitrary goals within games that can both guide and reward players in a variety of situations. The potential for increased engagement that they provide is well known and far more effective when made into a socially shared experience rather than an in-game checklist.
Leaderboards are excellent for any potentially competitive title. Timed games, anything point-based, and progress competition are all possible. The implications are obvious.
The most important part of this update, however, is the sync feature. By allowing a user to sync their progress in a given game without requiring that files be left behind even after the deletion of a title from the device, GameCircle extends the lifespan of games. Even if you don’t finish a given selection on your phone tonight, you can always pull it up on your Kindle Fire tomorrow and pick up where you left off. You can even forget about a game and not have to start unlocking levels again from the beginning when you think about it a year down the line. It’s highly appealing.
Overall, GameCircle meets a need. It eliminates the need for potentially shady alternatives and further incentivizes development specifically for Amazon’s Appstore. That will be essential for the continued popularity of the Kindle Fire, but anybody with an Android device stands to benefit.
The most recent round of updates to the Kindle platform has begun to expand beyond the realm of Amazon-designed hardware. Users of the Kindle for iOS and Kindle for Android are now enjoying updates to their software. This comes as part of Amazon’s transition to the new Kindle Format 8 system which, while still an ongoing process, will eventually offer superior formatting control to publishers on every supported device.
The Kindle for iOS update makes this version 3.1 of the app. The most notable changes are specifically meant for users of the iPad. On the tablet, this app now supports KF8 formatting already in use in many children’s books and comics. These include Kindle Text Pop Up and Kindle Panel View. iPad users will also get to have a bit more control over their general reading experience. You get smaller margins and an overall cleaner look to the page, which should help in any book.
The update wasn’t just for iPad users though. Everybody running Kindle for iOS will now once again be able to look up words via Google and Wikipedia again. The loss of that ability was a matter of some annoyance for many a while back. Navigation should also be somewhat improved for all thanks to a search function allowing users to access specific titles and authors.
Kindle for Android didn’t get quite so extensive a treatment this time around, but what was changed will be important for some. Assuming you are running Android on a tablet, version 3.6.0 will allow for more extensive formatting controls. These include similar improvements in margin control as on the iPad, but also line spacing and landscape optimization controls. If you choose to, you can now view two pages side by side in Kindle for Android to better simulate the experience of reading a paper book. From experience, including but not limited to the Kindle Fire, I can say that this has a hugely positive effect on landscape formatted tablet reading.
No word has been given just yet about whether or not the KF8 features that have now made their way to the iOS app, along with the Kindle eReader and more, will be coming to Android in the near future. I would say to expect them around the same time as the new Kindle is released at the latest, but we don’t know when that will be beyond that it is most likely before the end of July.
While I am a huge fan of the dedicated eReader for any sort of extended reading experience, the Kindle apps add a level of convenience that you really have to appreciate. Not every occasion for reading requires pulling out the Kindle and sitting for hours poring over your favorite book. These improvements are a good sign that Amazon is paying attention to the way their apps present themselves on various platforms and device types, as well as signaling that they have every intention of optimizing things for as many users as possible.
One of the first fun hidden Kindle features that a lot of people were surprised to discover was the hidden Minesweeper game. It is still there, by the way, when you hit Alt-Shift-M on your home screen. The big deal was that it provided people with an example of something the device could do besides reading. The Kindle made a lot of people nervous because of how narrowly focused it was. Nobody likes a single-purpose gadget, in theory. By having something more right there for people to see, it kept the options open. These days, with the Kindle on top and nobody left questioning the usefulness of an eReader for many people, it isn’t so much of a priority.
Now, I’ve found several Kindle apps helpful on a fairly regular basis. The Notepad app from 7 Dragons is useful in all sorts of situations and tends to make the keyboard on my Kindle more useful than the annotation features. Calendar Pro is another that just made sense for a device that I carry around with me all the time anyway. That doesn’t mean that there are all that many potential uses for that kind of software. The processing power of the Kindle, along with the drawbacks of the E Ink Pearl screen when used for non-reading purposes, severely limits the possibilities. We still have games, of course. There are fun word games, board games, and that whole selection. A whole “less is more” approach to design has forced some interesting and often entertaining innovation. It’s still a sharply limited area with little in the way of potential for the future.
I’ve seen some complaints that a real Kindle Apps Store has failed to develop. In fact, Amazon has failed to even bring forth some of the basic features that people were hoping for, like customizable screen savers. This demonstrates a certain lack of commitment to the field, one would think. The problem is that there is just not a lot of room to grow outside of what has been done. Refinement, sure, but that’s it. The upcoming Kindle Tablet, with its accompanying focus on the Android platform, would seem to illustrate Amazon’s understanding of that. They couldn’t build on what they had anymore, so they moved on.
If I had to make a guess, I would say that there will be no new major, officially supported, non-reading capability added to the Kindle eReader line. There is simply more room to grow app capability in the tablet market, and Amazon has to be hoping to convert Kindle owners into Kindle Tablet owners as they get ready for the release. Lessons were probably learned about how to deal with app sales, though perhaps not to the same extent that they have been from the Android App Store, and it will translate into superior quality when the new, more powerful devices come along. The app for the Kindle wasn’t a bad idea, but I think it has mostly run its course now. We’ll see a bit more tweaking, some vying for dominance in the few truly useful application niches, and many more diverting games, but real innovation might need to focus more on the future Kindle Tablet offerings.
Since pretty much the start of the Kindle platform, it’s been all about the availability. Sure, you can get yourself a physical Kindle and it’s amazing, but part of the convenience is knowing that whether you’re at work and have a free moment at the PC or on the subway with nothing but your iPhone, you can pull up your book and pick up right where you left off. It’s always nicer to read on your Kindle, but the apps are what makes the eBook stand out for many people as a worthwhile purchase.
Unfortunately, and whether that is unfortunate for Amazon or for iOS users remains to be seen, Apple has decided that eReading apps are far too popular for them not to take a cut if they can manage it. Sony’s Reader app was just denied a place in the App store and others dealers, including Amazon, will have until March 31st to bring themselves into line with the newly enforced policy related to that denial. Namely, users are no longer going to be allowed to view purchased material from outside sources unless that same material is available for purchase directly through the app that would be used to view it. Which means, basically, that Apple is wanting a 30% cut of all eBook sales.
What happens next is still up in the air, but the ball is in Amazon’s court, so to speak. It’s possible that we could see them do nothing. Judging entirely by the few iPad users I know, many would be outraged by the removal of the Kindle app and bought it for very little besides its capability as a reading device. Frankly, I gather that iBooks has proven disappointing.
It’s also entirely possible that Amazon could cave in and put a convenient purchase option in their Apps, with a markup for the convenience. I don’t know how that would square exactly with the Apple rules in the long run, but at least there would be some way to buy besides the Amazon website’s Kindle Store. Maybe some people would even use it, not knowing better or because it’s quicker than flipping over to a web browser.
The one thing I absolutely cannot see happening is Amazon just letting Apple take a 30% cut out of existing purchase prices. One of their biggest pushes in the last year has been to attract new authors interested in publishing cheap eBooks directly through the site. The big push is the 70% royalty option, of course. Does anybody really believe that Amazon is willing to give up their cut in its entirety? Or that the attraction for authors would be nearly as great if they knew that they would only be getting 49% instead of their supposed 70% on any iOS purchase(($1 *.7)*.7=$0.49)? I don’t.
When you sum all this up, it seems like the only people that Apple can hope to hurt with this move will be their own customers. I get that they feel like they deserve money since it’s their device being used, but it’s a bit late to start pulling that. Call having the app a value adding opportunity for your hardware sales and leave it at that. The Kindle vs iPad comparisons and debates are only fun when they both do the same job still!