Amazon's Graceful Dance Around Apple's App Store Rules
Due to Apple's App Store rules, Amazon months ago opted not to allow users to purchase e-books directly through its Kindle iOS app. That added a few steps to the process of getting Kindle titles, but recently Amazon has refurbished its Kindle page on iOS Safari to make the process smoother. It's certainly an improvement, though it seems Amazon may have overlooked at least one opportunity in terms of design.
Because Apple has this pesky rule against running apps on iOS devices that direct you away from Apple's ecosystem to buy competing products without using Apple e-commerce engines to handle the transaction -- and shuffle 30 percent of the sale to Apple's bank account -- it's has been a bit harder to buy Amazon.com-based Kindle e-books to read on an iOS device through the Kindle app.
Until last summer, you could click from within the app, buy a book with your Amazon.com account, and start reading it seconds later. Now you have to leave the app, click through a few screens and, it seems, wait a bit longer until all the systems are done talking in the sky so you can start reading. It's not a terrible workaround, but it's not overly friendly, either. And that's what Apple wants because, after all, Amazon.com is a major competitor for Apple and its iBookstore. I get that, and knowing Apple, I feel lucky that we still get to use the Kindle app at all. (I'm not joking.)
Fortunately, the Web and the world isn't standing still, and Amazon realized that millions of iPad users still want to buy Kindle e-books, even if they don't own Kindle Fire tablets. So Amazon created an optimized website that's clean and touch-friendly for iPad-based browsing readers. I took it for a spin, and it's pretty amazing.
A feature that may be super useful (or not at all) is the Recommended for You section at the top, which lets you flick left or right through a handful of recommended titles. The flicking action is clearly a nod to the iPad touch experience, and it's a welcome feature. And the bad? My recommendations where a whole series of children's books, which is puzzling, until I remembered that I bought a kid's book as a gift during the holidays, and Amazon must be associating that gift purchase with a topic that I actually care about.
Unfortunately, you can't set that recommendation process manually, for example, by asking Amazon to only recommend a type of book or genre, so prepare to be surprised. If you share your iPad with family members, and they browse around Amazon.com too, you might run into similarly surprising recommendations.
Back to the app ... I mean, back to the iPad-optimized Kindle website. The site definitely runs well in my Safari browser, and while it has a look and feel that makes it less like a Web page and more like an app, it's still browser-based.
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
A great thing about perusing Amazon's wares via a browser is tabbed browsing. I can open up several tabs of various products (or books or e-books) and decide which one I want to buy. With iTunes and the iBookstore, there's no way to open up multiple pages or even put items of interest in a holding area to consider for purchase -- not even a shopping cart. Not every buy is an impulse buy, and if Steve Jobs took months to figure out what kind of couch to buy, I wish he would have recognized that some people like to take a few minutes to an hour or two to decide to buy a particular book.
So the iBookstore doesn't have tabbed browsing, but the old-school Amazon.com site does. And the new Amazon Kindle site optimized for the iPad? No tabbed browsing! If you touch and hold a link on the Kindle iPad site, nothing happens. Browse over to the full Amazon.com site, and boom, you'll get the pop-up box that lets you open the page in a new tab.
Amazon has taken a couple of steps forward, but then took a step back here.
More Books? Better Selection? More Information?
What I appreciate about Amazon over the Apple iBookstore is that I trust Amazon to be more inclusive, to have more titles, and to actually link to or reference titles that a) are no longer available, and b) are not yet published.
Amazon, for instance, will let you buy a book months in advance of a release date, as well as give you a projected date of release ... although the company is inconsistent at it, no doubt due to some information available (or not available) from publishers. I'm not sure how well the new iPad site will shake out in this sort of information -- it'll take some time to run into not-yet published titles, for example, and see if the site has details.
As for additional browsing features, such as New York Times Bestsellers, New & Noteworthy, and Kindle Singles, as well as the Top 100 Paid and Top 100 Free e-books, not to mention genres, the Amazon Kindle iPad site is fun to navigate. It loads fast, it's airy, it shows off reader reviews ... and so does Apple's iBookstore.
The fact is, there are more Kindle types of content available than available through iBooks, and I doubt we'll ever see one-to-one parity. So consumers, even Apple lovers, need easy choices, and I'm quite pleased to see Amazon make the workaround. With increasingly powerful Web-based solutions using technologies like HTML5, Apple won't be able to keep its ecosystem as closed as it might like. But as a consumer, I like how Amazon is thinking here.