Kindle Apps: The Future, or A Flop?

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.

11 thoughts on “Kindle Apps: The Future, or A Flop?”

  1. Just got my Kindle on Saturday and didn’t know about the minesweeper. Never play it on my PC so I doubt I will on the Kindle, but nice to know it’s there. I did immediately load the calendar, calculator and notepad apps (never know when I might need to check a date or add a few numbers while reading!) It’ll be interesting to see what else they come up with, but being a “single-purpose gadget” is enough for me.

    P.S. I still prefer dead tree books for the most part, though. For resale value if nothing else!

  2. “Amazon has to be hoping to convert Kindle owners into Kindle Tablet owners as they get ready for the release.”

    I think that’s partially wrong. Jeff Bezos has already made it clear that they will always support a dedicated eReader, tablets just aren’t the same. Those of us who are voracious readers don’t really need any other functionality in our Kindles except to be able to read a book.

    That said, Amazon has a built-in potential customer base for tablets in their Kindle customers. Knowing that their devices will be high-quality and affordably priced has a lot of people excited.

  3. I don’t see the need for apps on my Kindle. I bought my Kindle to read books on, I don’t need it to do anything else. I have my iPhone for other stuff.

  4. I bought my Kindle expressly to read on. I did love learning that minesweeper was hiding in there but on the whole I don’t really care about apps. I just want to read. And read. And read some more!

  5. CS,

    The potential customer base was basically the idea I was trying to get at. Perhaps convert wasn’t the right word, but surveys have demonstrated that a significant number of owners of either a tablet or an eReader either own both or intend to own both in the near future. Being able to pick up your tablet and eReader from the same company will just make it that much easier.

  6. if they are really smart they will make a case that holds both the tablet and the reader so that you can trivially open it to either one but keep both protected and togeather.

    yes, it will add weight, but the trade-off is well worth it to some folks.

  7. There would be a much bigger role for notepad-type apps if Amazon were to allow them:

    1. to import the user’s in-book notes and highlights. This would be handy for writing book reviews and reports.

    2. to send the documents they create wirelessly to their computer for printing, like an app on the iPad.

    3. to e-mail those documents to others.

  8. …a total flop. The 5-way UI and horrid keyboard on the K3 makes it nearly impossible to use any app I’ve seen so far.

  9. “The 5-way UI and horrid keyboard on the K3 makes it nearly impossible to use any app …”

    Sooner or later some EBR-maker (hopefully Amazon) is going to have the nerve to offer a keychord keyboard on the back of the device, with finger-loops. This would allow fast typing, after the new interface had been learned, and would reduce the device’s footprint.

    There’d be a lot of returns from folks who gave up. An online video instruction course would be needed to help train them. And maybe a $25 restocking fee, to encourage buyers to stay the course.

  10. I got the kindle for reading not playing games or using apps. I like the fact that its devoted to doing one thing really well.

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