Dear Amazon: Kindle Apps Won't Beat Tablets

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Amazon, we need to talk. If you are thinking of competing with the onslaught of tablet PCs and iSlates by bringing third-party applications to the Kindle, well, keep on dreaming.

I mean, it's an interesting idea to let developers sign up for next month's limited beta of the Kindle software development kit, and it was a smart move to offer developers a 70-30 split--similar to what iPhone developers get. But are you really expecting programmers to get excited over developing for a device with a display that, in your own words, "looks and reads like real paper?"

Look, I know you're worried about that whole rumored Apple tablet thing and the onslaught of innovative e-readers introduced at CES this year, but is a software development kit the answer? I'm not sure.

The Kindle

Amazon, I'm not sure if you've noticed, but while the Kindle and the Kindle DX may be great for reading text, their E-ink displays just don't have that much pizzazz. I know you're touting Kindle features like 3G wireless delivery via Amazon Whispernet, a high-resolution 6-inch or 9.7-inch electronic ink display, and a long battery life, but that pales in comparison to, well just about every other mobile device developers want to work on. It even pales in comparison to the iPhone 3GS with its 16GB or 32GB storage, GPS, digital compass, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and 3G connectivity. Not to mention the fact that the iPhone has a touchscreen to make all those applications easier to use.

Kindle Games?

Games may be the biggest selling point for the iPod Touch, so what can the Kindle do in this area? True, Electronic Arts says it is looking forward to "bringing some of the world's most popular and fun games to Kindle and their users." That sounds great, but considering the Kindle can only display text and still images, I guess the world's most popular and fun games must include hangman, chess, crosswords, and Sudoku, or some retro text-based games.

Other Apps

But there's more to mobile device apps than just games. Handmark is creating a Zagat restaurant guide, and no doubt we'll see more handy guides and reference materials coming to the Kindle thanks to the Kindle's SDK. I suppose the Kindle's 3G connection might make it possible for some location-based apps that use cell towers instead of GPS. But location-based games/social applications like Foursquare and Gowalla are probably out of the question. I guess no one's going to become the mayor of their local cafe when they're out reading War and Peace or playing hangman on their Kindle. As for social networking, I can't wait to see Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter in full black-and-white.

Kindle Apps Needs a New Device

Let's face, it Amazon, if you want a new angle to compete with devices like tablets, Android phones, and the new generation of e-readers, maybe what you need is a Kindle lineup that includes one device with a non-E-ink screen. Or maybe a dual screen Kindle that has E-ink on one side and a regular LCD screen on the other? Applications are a good idea for expanding the uses of a device like the Kindle, but if you want to fuel similar innovation that's going on with smartphones, you might want to think about upgrading your device specs a little.

Connect with Ian on Twitter (@ianpaul).

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