Amazon announced Kindle Cloud Reader on Wednesday, a Web-based workaround for the company to directly sell books on Apple’s iPad without having to pay Apple a 30% cut, as required for any in-app purchases in apps approved by Apple for its App Store. It’s a very well-built service, and we wanted to offer users a visual tour of what is likely to be the first proper challenge to Apple’s App Store hegemony.
Kindle Cloud Reader is based on HTML 5, the tools championed by Apple itself as the future of the mobile Internet, and it works right through Safari on iPad. It is also installable onto your home screen, making it as accessible as the rest of your apps.
First up is accessing the service, which you do at read.amazon.com, where you will be asked to log in with your Amazon/Kindle credentials. You will also be asked to give permission to the service to use 50MB of storage on your iPad. You can continue to use Safari to use this version of Kindle, or you can choose to add the app to your home screen, where it will behave like a traditional app.
You can make Kindle Cloud Reader into an app by clicking the sharing arrow and choosing “Add to Home Screen”
When you do, it will launch like the figure below. Notice the lack of the URL field and other browser-based interface elements that you see in the figure above.
Kindle Cloud Reader as an app
Like Amazon’s Kindle app for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7, Mac, or Windows, and the company’s dedicated Kindle hardware, Kindle Cloud Reader syncs with all of your devices. Once you are logged in, Kindle Cloud Reader presents you with your library of books that you may have purchased in the past, and if you open any of them, you’ll be taken to the last page you had open.
The screenshot below shows the library of one of our staff members (it contains all of the books he purchased in the past, and is scrollable with an up or down swipe). By tapping and holding one of the book covers, you can download it to your iPad.
Kindle Cloud Reader Downloading & Pinning a book to your iPad
Note that this is independent of of any books you may or may not have already downloaded to your iPad on the Kindle app you can get through the App Store.
Once a book is downloaded, it will be indicated by a thumb pin, as seen in the figure below. It’s also important to note that you can access all of your books when you have a connection to the Internet. Those books that have been downloaded and pinned can be accessed offline.
Thumb pins mark those books that have been downloaded to your device
Next, let’s look at reading on the app. Our brief experimentation with Kindle Cloud Reader found it to be pretty much as responsive as the company’s original iOS Kindle app. Swipe the screen, or tap on the edge of the screen, and the page turns.
Warning to those running iOS 5 beta: Testing (on a legit) iOS 5 beta installation on iPad resulted in some crashes of Safari during testing. We found no such crashes on the shipping version of iOS 4.3.5.
You can also access on-screen controls for changing the font size and colors of your pages, as noted in the figure below.
On-screen controls for font and page layout
One significant difference, however, is the options for portrait and landscape mode. On the App Store app, landscape mode gives the reader side-by-side pages, as if you had an actual book open in front of you, while portrait mode presents text as if it were on a single page of paper.
As you can see in the two screenshots that follow, both portrait mode and landscape mode offer only the single-page view in Kindle Cloud Reader.
Landscape mode in Kindle Cloud Reader
[Editor’s Note: Don’t worry, Lord Eddard! We’re sure everything will work out OK!]
Portrait mode in Kindle Cloud Reader
You can access navigation for your books by tapping the book icon. There you can tap to the Cover, Table of Contents, the beginning of the book, or a specific page using “Location.” You can also use the slider at the bottom of the page, just as with the native iOS app.
Navigation in Kindle Cloud Reader
Of course, it’s the Kindle Store that is the most important difference between Kindle Cloud Reader and the company’s iOS app on Apple’s App Store, mainly because it no longer exists in in the iOS app, which means you can’t actually buy books through the native app.
You can, however, buy books through the Kindle Cloud Reader. The book store functions as well as any other Amazon online property, and has excellent navigation and each of use.
In the figure below, we’ve clicked through to the landing page for the store. At the top are books recommended for this reporter, and those recommendations are scrollable with a swipe on the screen. You’ll also see navigation for categories, as well as the Top 100 Paid and Top 100 Free books available through the store.
Kindle Cloud Reader Store landing page
In the figure below, we’ve tapped through to an individual book. You’ll see the same recommendations (scrolled to a different point in the list, for those keeping score at home) as on the landing page, in addition to details, pricing, and a button for buying the book.
A listing for an individual book, this one River of Gods, by Ian McDonald
Dave Hamilton assisted with this article.