Angry and outraged that Apple forced Amazon to pull the link to the Kindle e-book store from within its Kindle iOS app? So was Amazon, but instead of just sitting and whining about it like you and me, Amazon decided to do something. Behold, the Kindle Cloud Reader, a web app that behaves just like a slightly slow native app.
A “web app,” at least on iOS, means a web page that stores itself and its data locally on your iPhone or iPad. It has an icon on your home screen and when you tap it the app launches, usually without the browser bar at the top of the screen. It looks and behaves like a native app (with some limitations), and because it is really a web page, it is exempt from Apple’s App Store rules.
Cloud Reader is clunkier than the regular Kindle app, but sleeker than some actual hardware e-readers. It will store selected books for offline reading (long press a book cover thumbnail to save), as well as automatically cacheing any book you are reading. You can change font size and color, access bookmarks and notes made on other devices, and while you can add new bookmarks, you can’t add highlights, notes or search within a book.
If you hope that this app will replace the native app as your go-to e-reader, you’ll be disappointed. Page turns can be slow when you flick through the book (although if you read at regular speed, the app has time to caches the next page and flipping is instant), and it lacks some essential features.
But this is really about the store, and the Cloud Reader store is great. It’s a lot easier to use than the full-on Kindle web pages. It opens up right in the app, just like Apple’s iBooks Store, and you can browse, search and buy. Better still, you never get presented with non-Kindle titles, and buying is a one-click process.
Sampling books, though, isn’t so good. The sample section loads up right there in the store section, and looks just like the regular reader. But you’ll have to read it right there and then. While quitting the app and relaunching brings you back to the sample, you can’t send it to your library to read later. I often queue up a few samples on my Kindle and read them later. Try this with the Cloud Reader and you’ll be disappointed: flipping back to your library completely resets the Store section to its front page.
Still, it’s free, easy to install and also runs in Chrome and Safari on the Mac and PC. It doesn’t yet work on the iPhone. Sadly, it will only be downloaded by nerds who know about these things. And as we all know how to open the Kindle store in a browser and buy a book, it’s hard to see this as more than a proof of concept, and maybe a little poke at Apple.