Amazon’s stagnating software app
This article was linked to over at MobileReads and it struck a real chord with me. There’s lots to digest in that article but the one topic that I found myself nodding along with was the stagnation of Amazon’s software. Amazon has several different apps that span everything from PC to an iPhone and each app has separate functionality. I suppose that Amazon would like us all to own some versions of the Kindle, either Fire or Paperwhite. But wishes, horses, etc. Amazon’s Kindle Fire is so unsuccessful that they are selling the bottom of the line model at $49.99. This article suggests that the Kindle Fire market loss is nearly 70% year over year.
I’d wager that the majority of people that are reading Amazon books are either on dedicated eink devices or mobile devices. I base this on the fact that 64% of adults own a smartphone versus 32% who own a dedicated device. Judith Curr, publisher of Simon & Schuster’s Atria, told The Wall Street Journal that more people are reading on their phones and that phones (and print) are the future of reading. “The number of people who read primarily on phones has risen to 14% in the first quarter of 2015 from 9% in 2012.” (Except if the book is YA. Video blogger Zella sold 20 print books for every ebook sale.)
Why is this important? Amazon controls the digital reading market and despite the tepid efforts of others in the marketplace, Amazon is likely to continue to dominate for the near future. The problem is that without any competition Amazon has zero incentive to improve in any significant way.
The PC and Mac OS desktop apps are sad, poor versions of the iOS and Android Apps. For instance, the desktop apps don’t allow you to utilize your whisper sync account. You can’t view the most recent books purchased, only the most recent books “viewed.”
But the apps themselves are weak as well. The organization tools are very rudimentary requiring you to manually create collections instead of creating collections based on categories or book tags. Both iBooks and Kindle launched a new font this year. Bookerly from Kindle and a new engine finally solved simple typography issues such as the “all-new layout engine that introduces better text justification, kerning, drop caps, image positioning, and more.” But you won’t see the new kerning on all the books because it requires Amazon to reprocess the digital books:
Just a quick note if you don’t see the improved layout engine when you update the app. Amazon needs to reprocess each book in their Kindle catalog to support the feature. They’re currently working through an extensive backlog, so if you don’t see any improvement, re-download your book, or try again later. Some of the books updated so far can be found here.
It took them over seven years to achieve this! Reading apps are so bad that Google actually bought Oyster for the reading app rather than for the content.
These apps don’t utilize the power of the devices. Third party reading apps offer significantly more customization options. Some allow you to increase or decrease the brightness by merely dragging your finger up and down the screen. You can’t use the side buttons (such as the volume) to turn the pages even though Android software would allow that feature for apps. Marvin for iOS has a shuffle feature which can help you discover hidden gems within your digital to be read collection. There’s no way to give your books a star rating in the Kindle app. You can rate a book on Amazon but that rating does not carry over to the actual device.
Some third party apps allow you to group books by word count so you can quickly identify which book is a longer epic novel to be read on the weekend versus a novella that you can gobble up before bed.
You can’t share an account with your family unless you all are using a Kindle device. Kindle has a Kindle Family Library to share books between family members. But this is only for people who all use and read on their Kindle devices. Sharing is also a feature that’s not fully integrated into apps but is available for the dedicated devices.
Because Apple takes 30% of every in app purchase, Amazon has decided not to sell books through it’s app. (Android is a different story) Instead, you can borrow KU books only. I feel like that limitation is one of the reasons why KU is popular. When you’re on your smartphone and want to read something you can easily go to the Kindle Book Browser and download any number of books. But buying them isn’t an option.
Android and iOS allows for split screens which would be great if you could have a book open on one side and the Kindle app open on the other. But no. The Kindle apps are compatible with the split screen. Neither can you write notes within a Kindle app, either on the Android or iOS even though both platforms allow for this function.
Amazon’s dominance in the industry makes it unlikely that they will innovate, creating a more robust app that pushes beyond what it currently does now. The app is rudimentary but Amazon doesn’t have an incentive to create a better one and that’s unfortunate.