The Amazon Kindle Cloud Reader is going to become the only e-reading platform for hundreds of thousands of users. It is the only solution to buy and read e-books on your iPHone and iPad. Not to mention Chromebooks, Windows RT, Windows 8 and Windows 10 tablets. Many people are disappointed in the Kindle Cloud Reader because it does not have any support for different fonts, justification or even X-Ray. Why does the Cloud Reader exist and what is the real story about why this was developed in the first place?
Longtime Apple users remember the day when their entire world changed. On July 10, 2008 Apple unveiled the App Store. It allowed iPhone and iPod users to download and install apps to their smartphone. Within one year they had 1,100,000+ third-party apps officially available and in a few short years 200 million iOS users had downloaded over 15 billion apps.
The early years of the App Store were a boom period of e-book sales on the iOS platform. Amazon was selling millions of them and it allowed Kobo to become the dominate number two player. It was also a lifeline for companies on the brink of going out of business and bowing out of e-books altogether, in the form of Borders and Sony. But like all good things, the Apple wellspring was about to run dry.
In 2011 Apple had sent out notifications to publishers that they were going to eliminate the ability to direct users to their own internal payment processors and Apple would process all in-app payments. Additionally, Apple was going to take a 30% commission on every sale.
By July of 2011 the new Apple policy was put in place and major players such as Amazon, Kobo, Borders all updated their apps and removed the ability to pay for books. They basically turned all of their iOS apps into glorified e-reading software.
Selling e-books is a razer thin business model and paying Apple 30% is not feasible, nobody would make any money except Apple. In order to continue selling e-books on the Apple platform, Amazon got really sneaky and released a workaround.
The Kindle Cloud Reader was developed in the first quarter of 2011 and released to the public in August. They issued a copious amount of press releases, reached out to all of the tech blogging community to promote it. They basically instructed users to use the Safari internet browser to buy e-books from Amazon and then use the existing Kindle for iOS app to read them. The Cloud Reader was never meant to be anything other than a temporary selling vehicle to make a little bit of money from hardcore Apple users.
Over the course of the past three years Amazon has abandoned their dedicated apps for a myriad of operating systems, such as Blackberry and Windows. They never even attempted to develop a solution for Chrome OS, Firefox OS, or Sailfish. Instead, Amazon just says use our browser based Cloud Reader solution.
The big problem is that the Kindle Cloud Reader remains a bastard child. It never receives updates or new features. It does not have any of the things that has made the Fire Tablet, Kindle e-Reader or the dedicated apps for Android and iOS. It lacks basic functionality such as changing the linespacing or font type. It does not have Quiet Mode for distraction free reading, nor integration with Amazon X-Ray or the Whispersync for Voice system that will play an audiobook. You can change the size of the font and the margins, take notes or make a highlight. This limited user experience is tremendously frustrating for new users having to gravitate towards the platform.
Amazon has a different set of priorities these days. They continue to actively develop the firmware on most of the modern Kindle e-Readers, Fire OS features and updates for the Echo speaker. It is far more financially lucrative to sell hardware and digital content on one device. The Cloud Reader will likely continue to wallow in obscurity, getting no love. But, at least you know the full story on why it was developed in the first place and understand why it’s so terrible now.
Michael Kozlowski has written about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. Newspapers and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times have picked up his articles. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.