Amazon Wants Kindle Apps, Releases SDK

Online bookselling giant Amazon has released a software development kit (SDK) for its Kindle e-reader, in a move to give the device a broader array of applications beyond e-books -- and potentially positioning it to go head-to-head with devices like the rumored Apple tablet.

The Kindle has been on the market since 2007, the same year Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) launched the iPhone. In that time, Apple has created the App Store for the iPhone and iPod Touch, which now features 100,000 apps and three billion downloads. But Amazon's (NASDAQ: AMZN) Kindle is only now getting started on the process.

"We've heard from lots of developers over the past two years who are excited to build on top of Kindle," said Ian Freed, vice president of Amazon Kindle in a statement. "The Kindle Development Kit opens many possibilities -- we look forward to being surprised by what developers invent."

For book publishers, the result could be new -- and more interactive and customizable -- ways to deliver their content.

While Kindle has been a hot seller, Amazon is forced to play catch-up in the online app store market. The company plans to start a limited beta next month and launch the store later this year, but has not been more specific.

"They are late to the game given the fact that the publishing industry has been looking for more creative ways to display their content for at least two years," Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, told InternetNews.com.

Kindle "active content" apps

It won't be for just books and magazines, however. Handmark is building an active Zagat guide featuring their trusted ratings, reviews and more for restaurants in cities around the world, and Sonic Boom is building word games and puzzles.

There are three different categories of what Amazon calls "active content" for the Kindle: free applications, one-time paid applications, and applications with a monthly subscription. All existing Kindles will be able to support these forms of content once they get a software upgrade.

Unlike the Apple App Store, developers can set their own prices, but they also have to pay for the applications' wireless delivery at a rate of 15 cents a megabyte. After costs are covered, developers keep 70 percent of the revenue from sales of the app.

The Kindle Development Kit includes sample code, documentation, and the Kindle Simulator, which helps developers build and test their content by simulating the 6-inch Kindle and 9.7-inch Kindle DX on Mac, PC, and Linux desktops.

Bajarin recognizes this as a preemptive move on Amazon's part to get out before the as-yet-unannounced but widely expected Apple tablet, though he thinks it's more a case of preparing for the future than beefing up the existing product.

"Strategically, this is more important if they create a more advanced version of the Kindle. Having this SDK for just the existing Kindle is important, but not necessarily exciting," he said.

"If you look at publishing, they are anticipating more advanced devices. Devices out there today just replicate text. But if they make an SDK to build things for a multimedia-based Kindle, then that could be worth more," he added.

Royalty shift

Amazon earlier this week announced a new program, under which it will pay some e-book authors and publishers 70 percent of a book's list price, net of delivery costs.

This is in line with the royalty plan for apps in the future Kindle store. The plan, which takes effect on June 30, is limited to e-books whose list price is between $2.99 and $9.99.

With Apple next week expected to introduce what pundits calling its worst kept secret -- a tablet PC -- it's also expected to announce alliances with media publishers, both for books and periodicals.

These would be sold through iTunes, not a third party like Amazon -- another development likely to increase the pressure on the Kindle maker.

In addition to Apple, Amazon is also being pressured by e-book readers from Barnes & Noble and Sony, which are also beefing up their e-bookstore offerings.

Andy Patrizio is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.


Amazon, Apple, Kindle, e-reader, e-book