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.