Amazon surprised everyone this morning by announcing a new way to read your Kindle books if you’re on an iPad or computer. It’s called Kindle Cloud Reader, and it’s an HTML5 web application that runs in modern browsers and gives you offline access to Kindle books that you download.
Unlike some Kindle announcements, this one is available immediately, although at launch it will only work on three browsers:
- Safari on iPad
- Safari on desktop
Amazon says that support for other browsers is forthcoming, but doesn’t give a date.
But the important one of course is Safari on iPad. As I mentioned yesterday, Apple has launched a usability attack against its competitors in order to drive more business to iBooks, and the only way around it is to produce a web app that bypasses Apple’s App Store guidelines. Although we already knew that Kobo is working on a similar HTML5 web app to replace its iOS app, and that the Financial Times already has one, Amazon has remained quiet about this topic. The signs were there with the launch of the Amazon Cloud Drive earlier this year, but until today there was no hint that Amazon had this ready to go.
As far as functionality, it’s clear that this is a first attempt, and for now you’ll lose a lot of extra perks if you abandon the iOS app on your iPad:
- font resizing
- white, sepia, and black color schemes
- portrait and landscape views
- access to notes and highlights that you’ve already made
- last-page-read syncing
- link to Kindle Store
- two-column layout for landscape view
- ability to make new notes and highlights
- access to magazines or newspapers
The downloaded books are stored in a database file in the browser’s cache. On the iPad, there’s no way to access them without jailbreaking or running a third party program on your computer that lets you browse the guts of iOS. On a desktop, the database files are easy to find in your web browser’s cache, but in my brief tests this morning I couldn’t find any easy way to extract the downloaded books from them. It’s much easier to simply download your books from your Amazon Kindle account page or from a Kindle device if you really want backup copies.
Aside from the obvious benefit of sidestepping Apple, a browser based Kindle reader is also good if you’re not at your own PC but want to access your Kindle library. Now you can simply log in through Safari or Chrome and call up your books from anywhere. It’s not perfect—there’s no way to copy and paste text, for instance—but it’s another step forward in making ebooks more accessible regardless of the device you’re using at any given moment.
Check it out for yourself at http://read.amazon.com/