Bringing Windows 8 into the Kindle App family didn’t take long. Amazon has already got a polished version of the reading software in the Windows Store and ready to use. As always, it’s free of charge. Those familiar with the workings of Kindle apps, including the Kindle Cloud Reader, will find themselves right at home here. There are, however, some peculiarities that make the Windows 8 offering stand out.
All of the standard features are present here. The app can open any document associated with your Amazon account in either Cloud view or locally once you’ve downloaded it. Whispersync takes care of updating your notes and maintaining your position in the document. There are a number of options to customize parts of the display including the margins, font size, and color scheme. A selection of fonts would have been nice, but that’s my only major complaint.
Basically you can assume that this app is a portal for the Kindle Cloud Reader without being too far off. The visual style of the library is more in line with the Windows 8 aesthetic and some of the capabilities the app offers are specific to Windows 8, but once you are reading a book all of that falls away and it’s the same familiar experience.
The Windows 8-specific features are worth bring aware of, though. Amazon has done a good job of integrating the hooks that make Microsoft’s new interface distinct.
The Charm Bar, largely the way you handle searching, sharing, and settings in any Windows 8 app, is the first thing to be aware of. Searching the Kindle App will first pull up your library, making it handy for anybody with a large selection on hand, but will also show the top twenty search results from the Kindle Store. Clicking on any of these will open a browser for shopping. This searching is available even if the app itself isn’t currently open thanks to the way the Charm Bar works, taking a step out of the process of opening or shopping for a book.
Since Charms are the way that all sharing is handled, this is also where you go for that. My first attempt allowed me to share the title of the book I was reading, a note to go with that title, and a link to the book in the store. This function will probably get more robust once Amazon figures out how to handle the even-handed treatment of all social sharing options in Windows 8.
It is also possible, and quite obvious, to “pin” a title to your Start Screen. Any time you select a book or open the app bar while reading, this option is presented. What this means is that the book will show up as a tile in the Start Screen, allowing you to jump directly into your book without worrying about navigating the library. It’s a handy way to keep your current books readily at hand.
Basically, while the Kindle for Windows 8 app doesn’t accomplish anything revolutionary it also doesn’t have any obvious problems. For a launch app, you’re not going to find many better implementations. Check out win8review.com for more information.
As was bound to happen eventually, Barnes & Noble has joined Amazon in offering a browser-based reading solution for their Nook customers. Since last August, the Kindle Cloud Reader has been offering the same capabilities to users of the competing platform. The current promotion set to launch Nook for Web, as the new application has been dubbed, offers users six free best sellers for giving it a try. Both the promo and the features make this worth taking a look at.
To try it out for yourself, simply head over to the Nook for Web site. Currently supported browsers include Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. In the preview, you can choose from any of the six selections available in this promotion. You get the first portion of the book immediately with no need to establish a Barnes & Noble account. This allows you to check out the features of the web app and see for yourself if it meets a need. Should you like what you see, these books are available for download through a link at the end of their sample portion.
In terms of features, Nook for Web is definitely competitive with the Kindle Cloud Reader. You can choose from eight font sizes, eight font styles, and a set of different page layouts. The default layout will take into account the width of your browser window and decide whether or not you need two columns for an optimal reading experience. If you don’t like the choice it makes, you can also choose to go with the publisher’s default layout preference or restrict things to a single page no matter the width of the window. At this time you can’t force a two column view.
Pull-down menus let you access the table of contents on the fly, as well as use the Nook platform’s social networking features and access information about the title you have open. The whole package fits well in Barnes & Noble’s established eBook platform and you can see where they have made efforts to keep the experience consistent for existing users. Obviously any books you already own for your Nook will be available to you as soon as you log in.
In some ways B&N has done a great job of meeting the needs of their community here. The features are sound and compatibility is extensive. They have even made Nook for Web work in Internet Explorer, which the Kindle Cloud Reader still does not do. On the other hand, they are missing compatibility with non-desktop browsers and I think that is going to hurt adoption.
The motivation behind the Kindle Cloud Reader was Amazon’s need to get around Apple’s restrictive terms and conditions for in-app sales. As such, iPad and iPhone owners were the priority in its development. Launching without letting those users take part in the new service immediately costs Barnes & Noble the chance to pull in some potential converts from the Kindle Platform. No matter how many people use Internet Explorer, and that isn’t a small number, the percentage of people who read on their mobile device is far higher.
It doesn’t hurt to take advantage of this promo (available through 7/26) even if you’re otherwise a Kindle customer. A free book is a free book. To gain access to the complete text of each title, you will need to create an account. Other than that, there’s no hoop to jump through. Having tried both, I definitely prefer the Kindle Cloud Reader. This is a good first step in what could eventually be a really impressive web app, though.
Kindle Cloud Reader
While Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader app might have been a response to Apple’s restrictive app store purchasing rules, it manages to be one of the best examples of the potential inherent in HTML5 applications. Users are able to enjoy all of the benefits of a local Kindle reading app without going through those pesky app stores and their associated complications.
Normally those complications are minimal, of course, but after Apple almost put an end to the Kindle app for iOS users it’s probably a good thing to break away. The one major complaint for users is that up until now only Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome browsers were supported. Now even more customers will get to join in.
Users of Mozilla Firefox can now access the Reader so long as they are running version 6 or later. This significantly expands the user base for the app by bringing in the most popular web browser worldwide. By most estimates Firefox is more popular than Chrome and Safari put together by a fair margin yet, even with Google making their presence increasingly known.
As has been the case previously, users of the Kindle Cloud Reader app will enjoy pretty much every basic feature they are used to from the Kindle platform both online and off. This includes the ability to read in a variety of font sizes and styles, a couple different color schemes, and the ability to bookmark. You can choose which of your Kindle books to keep locally for times when web access is questionable or simply not desired.
The only real downside, assuming that you aren’t a big fan of Internet Explorer who is therefore still left out of the fun, is the inability to annotate and highlight. Supposedly this feature is expected to be implemented in the future, but as yet nothing is there. You are, of course, able to read and access any and all annotations and such that you might have entered via another device or app.As always, I can’t say there’s any substitute for an actual Kindle eReader, if for no other reason than the major advantage they have in the E INK displays, but this brings a significant level of functionality to virtually any personal device.
The Kindle Cloud Reader, along with Amazon’s other cloud services, will be especially important in the near future as the Kindle Fire finally begins to ship. The company’s dedication to cloud computing and digital media delivery is a large part of the motivation behind the release of the tablet in the first place. While Firefox is obviously not a factor with the device itself, this move indicates an obvious continuing interest in updating and expanding the feature set of the app.
Users interested in checking out the Kindle Cloud Reader can access the device in any major non-IE browser at http://read.amazon.com or http://www.amazon.com/cloudreader or through the direct link in the Kindle Store.
Kindle Cloud Reader
Following the recent move by Apple to cripple any iBooks competition via billing requirements, it really isn’t much of a surprise to see Amazon pushing the Kindle Cloud Reader to what seems like it might be an early release. What is surprising is how functional it is at launch and how familiar it will feel to many people. Now users can read their Kindle eBooks on any device they happen to have a browser on, at least theoretically, with no need to even think about downloaded Apps.
Right now users can only access the Kindle Cloud Reader through either Apple’s Safari browser or Google Chrome, which is what leads me to believe that this is an early release. The fact that users will be able to pull this up on iPads but not on Android based Tablets would not make much sense otherwise. If you attempt to access the service through an alternative browser, you will see nothing but a splash screen for it with a bit of the basic information and links to currently supported choices. Since Android users still have access to a fully functional Kindle for Android app, however, it makes sense to prioritize elsewhere. The ads for the service have definitely been making a big deal about the integrated shopping experience for iPad users, which is what distinguishes it from the iOS app. Without something to make it at least equal to the existing Android Kindle app, not many people should feel the lack. Support for Firefox, Internet Explorer, the Blackberry Playbook browser, and more have been promised in the months to come. Given how excellent this early version is already, it’s something to look forward to.
To get started, head to https://read.amazon.com in either of the supported browsers (if you do not have either Chrome or Safari, they are both freely available and linked at the end of this posting). When asked to log into the service, simply enter your usual Amazon.com store account. Should you like to have your Kindle content available locally even when you are not connected to the internet, which I strongly recommend since it seems to speed things up a bit so far on my end, you will be given the option. All of your Kindle Edition purchases will be immediately available in a familiar layout, either way.
The Library view is easy to use and will be quite familiar to anybody who has used the Kindle apps before. You have a couple sorting and arrangement options in the upper-left corner and a size slider when you’re in grid view. Assuming you decided to enable offline reading via downloaded texts, you should see a Cloud/Downloaded toggle at the top of the screen. By default, you will not have all of your eBooks downloaded.
Any book that you want to save a local copy of will have to be acquired manually. Simply find it in the Cloud view, right-click on the cover art, and select “Download and Pin Book”. Each one takes perhaps ten to thirty seconds on an average internet connection. According to the Amazon help page for this app, you can store 50MB locally on your iPad. There are no posted restrictions for people using PC browsers.
When it comes to the actual reading experience, you have pretty much everything you can expect from an eReading application. On the PC browsing is achieved using the mouse, arrow keys, PgUp/Down buttons, or space bar. Nothing standard is left out, even if you can’t necessarily map your own keys yet. There are five font sizes to choose from, adjustable margins that do a good job of accommodating most screen sizes and orientations, and three color schemes. While there isn’t any finely tuned personalization included, the setup makes the best of the fact that you’ll be reading on an LCD while keeping everything as simple as possible.
The only really major shortcoming right now, aside from the already mentioned lack of universal browser compatibility, is the limited integration of extra features. For example, there does not seem to be any real way to perform a text search, which rules it out as an app substitute right now for a number of uses. Also, while you can sync all of your annotations and highlighting, you can’t make any new changes to any of it at this time. All that really seems included right now is bookmarking and syncing of last pages read. Given that the whole Whispernet setup makes up a core feature set of the Kindle experience it seems pretty likely that fixing these shortcomings will be happening in the very near future, but this is something to be aware of.
Overall, this is a great offering. The idea is clearly to stick it to Apple for bringing things to the point of conflict with their App Store purchasing rules, and I would say that even if things never went beyond their present state it would still be enough to be attractive for the majority of iOS Kindle users. There is literally nothing that Apple can reasonably do to block out Amazon’s control of the platform when it goes through something like this, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot that the browser based nature of the Kindle Cloud Reader would force the company to leave out.
As the application develops, it would not be surprising at all to learn that Amazon intended to replace their entire app presence with Cloud solutions. The Amazon Cloud Drive and Cloud Player, both of which obviously precede the Kindle Cloud Reader, do a pretty good job of demonstrating the potential. Perhaps after the success of those it was only a matter of time. Stay tuned for any updates to the browser app as the feature set and browser compatibility are improved. We’ll do our best here to keep you abreast of any changes and improvements.
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In case you have missed it, here’s a post by Andrei with some speculations about where Kindle Cloud Reader came from and where it might be headed.
Kindle Cloud Reader
Kindle for the Web has been around for almost a year and it seemed as it wasn’t going anywhere at all. Seemingly nothing happened even when Google came out with their online eBook offering. Then some more time passed and Apple started pressing eReader apps into selling eBooks via Apple app store. This would mean 30% commission for Apple but it would also cause eBook sellers like B&N, Sony and Amazon to loose (even more) money on eBook sales. Moving to the web seemed like a logical choice. Eventually Apple backed out and thing returned to status quo. However a few days ago Kindle did significantly expand their Web presence by releasing Kindle Cloud Reader (https://read.amazon.com/).
Kindle Cloud Reader is named in the same fashion as Amazon Cloud Player since “cloud” seems to be the most recent “magic buzz word”. It enables Kindle users to read their Kindle books in the browser almost without having to install anything on their devices. I put “almost” because Chrome users are asked to install optional browser extension that enables offline reading and Safari users are asked to extend 50 megabytes of browser database storage to the web-app for the same purposes. The reader is based on HTML5
Currently only it only works in Google Chrome (on Windows, Mac, Linux and Chromebook) and Apple Safari (on Mac and iPad, but not iPhone and iPod Touch) browsers. It accomplishes a whole lot and really nothing at the same time. Lets take a closer look:
- Kindle is now safe from Apple app store assaults since using the web application is a viable option. Apple blocking or otherwise preventing users from using the web application will open doors to so much legal and PR trouble that even billions of the cash that Apple stashed so far might not be enough to get them out of it. However as we’ve already seen, Apple wouldn’t go as far as removing a popular eReader apps from their app store anyway since it would accomplish nothing and hurt everyone (including Apple). The fact that Kindle Cloud Reader comes with book store “optimized for tablets” it seems very likely to me that one of the original goals behind the project was to bypass Apple app store if need be.
- Linux users now have official access to Kindle books. However you could get Kindle on Linux in the past as well though the virtue of Wine Windows emulator. But even if it wasn’t the case, Linux market share is still so small that most companies just choose to ignore it altogether without noticeable effect on the bottom line. No disrespect towards Linux and it’s users intended – just stating the facts as they stand
- Chromebook users can now access Kindle eBooks. Nice, but given their current market share you can’t call this anything but future investment and hedging the risks of the emerging tablet market.
- While all platforms (except Linux and Chromebook) had official support for Kindle via apps it is nice to have the option to forgo app installation altogether. I’ve worked in the software industry for about 15 years already and my strong belief is that every application or feature is a bug waiting to happen. This is especially true in modern fast paced “release early, release often” environment in which even my TV and receiver want a firmware update (that always includes bug fixes) on a monthly basis (not to mention all apps that I have installed on either iPad or Android. So having fewer apps is better. So far browser has been the best way of isolating apps from the OS and from one another.
- Kindle Cloud Reader will fully match what Google Books has to offer once all popular browsers are supported. However it’s not like Google Books is currently a serious player in the eBook market anyway.
- Another benefit of not having an app is the fact that it is easier for users to get their foot into the Kindle door since you don’t even need to install an app (never mind having a Kindle device as was the case a few years back) to start reading. Instant gratification is only one click away… However Amazon Cloud Reader is not fully integrated into Amazon Kindle Store yet. Although there is “Read now in Kindle Cloud Reader” button on the thank you page after the purchase, that button is nowhere to be found on the book product page. More importantly browsers that hold the largest market share (Internet Explorer, Firefox) on the most popular operating system (Windows) are not supported! 80% of users are left out. This may be the reason for the lack of book store integration. Users are more likely to install eBook reading app than a new browser and change their year old habits.
- While you can read the books in the browser (if your browser is supported), some features are missing such as:
- taking new notes and highlighting (though previous annotations are visible
- searching within the book (or your book collection). You can however search within the page using browser search function (Ctrl-F)
- Text-to-speech is not there. Given how complex the HTML document structure is (iframes within iframes and a lot of nested tags) I’m not sure if screen reader software will be able to handle it.
- There is only so much DRM one can put into browser app. With offline storage, pirating Kindle books would become a breeze. However it’s not like it wasn’t done before. Kindle DRM was broken in the past and even if it wasn’t there plenty of books circulating in torrents and shady websites anyway. You can find most of the books you would want with minimal effort. So not pirating is a conscious choice based on good nature and availability of legitimate purchase options rather than result of DRM.
Although it may seem that I’m overall critical and negative towards Kindle Cloud Reader, I’m not. For all it’s current shortcomings it has a great potential and these shortcomings can be easily overcome. Developing web apps is cheap if you have the right infrastructure (which Amazon certainly does) so Amazon can add all of the missing features even if there will be little demand for the Cloud Reader. They will do it just because they can or “just in case”.
Well written AJAX web application is truly cross-platform: I’ve seen the same app run on all Windows browsers, Mac browsers, iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch, Windows Phone 7, all kinds of Android devices, Linux, and even Kindle 3 browser. Not being bound by acceptance gates by numerous isolated app stores – that’s true freedom. Web app that doesn’t need to be installed and opens with a single click is also the ultimate instant gratification that will help many users get their first taste of Kindle.
All in all Kindle Cloud Reader is mostly about potential now. Whether this potential will be fully realized is up to Amazon.