Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) has just released first two Kindle apps: Shuffled Row and Every Word, thus opening the era of Kindle applications. Both applications are currently completely free. Since they are written by Amazon Digital Services and seem to be mostly geared towards promoting the Kindle platform, they are likely to stay free for an indefinite period. I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point they will be bundled with every new Kindle device sold.
A while ago I guestimated that Kindle 3 launch would be a great opportunity for Amazon to release Kindle App store and take the KDK out of closed beta. This guestimate turned out to be correct.
Both applications are quite predictably word games. Games seem to be the most numerous and popular application type on mobile platforms. Word games in particular are very likely to appeal to reading crowd which is the core of Kindle user base.
The goal of Shuffled Row is to construct words from available letter tiles. Up to 9 letter tiles are available at any given time. New tiles appear pretty fast. Once the rack is full, oldest tile starts disappearing. This process is also pretty fast. Once you construct a word, tiles comprising this word are also gone from the rack. Using rare letters yields more points (Z is 10, V is 4, etc). So does constructing longer words (4 letter word gets 2x multiplier, 5 letter – 3x, etc up to x7 for 9 letter word). If you submit something that game doesn’t consider a valid word, the letters are gone from the rack and no points are awarded. If you finish the game with empty rack you get 10 point bonus. Overall I would say that the game is very exciting to play and it is surprisingly dynamic from an app running on hardware with eInk screen (I’m playing it on 1st generation Kindle DX right now). Amazon did a great job of designing game mechanics in such a way that only small portion of the screen is updated at any given time and even that with just 2 colors (which is the fastest way to update eInk screen). Because “Shuffled Row” is such e dynamic game, I wouldn’t call it a relaxing time-killer but rather a very engaging brain-twister. On the first attempt I’ve scored 321 which is not bad considering that English is my second language. Since 60 letters are shuffled differently every time, no two games are the same.
In Every Word you need to uncover words on the board by constructing them from scrambled sets of letters. Unlike “shuffled row”, constructing the word doesn’t eliminate letters from the board. You can immediately reuse them to construct the next word. Game consists of 10 levels. You advance to the next level by uncovering the one of the longest words on the board. Quite often there is only one longest word on the board and each time that I’ve played it consisted of all of the available letters. Game has “relaxed” and “timed” mode. Relaxed mode doesn’t have a time limit. In timed mode you are given 3 minutes to complete each level. This not much at all. If you are stuck in “relaxed mode” you always have the option to forfeit the game and see the answers (which I do quite often). So depending on the mode the game can be either a brain-twister or relaxing time-killer.
Both games rely on vocabulary and therefore are quite large (around 1 megabyte of compressed data). Both games set a high standard for other Kindle games to come in terms of graphics, dynamics and usability on eInk display.
Both “shuffled row” and “every word” are a welcome addition to my Kindle library as they add useful time-wasting functionality to the device without taking away from it’s main function – reading. While Kindle will never be able to compete with Apple mobile apps, adding these games is similar adding a nice crossword puzzle to already interesting newspaper.