Why Apps will be better than using the Kindle 3 browser

The Kindle 3 already has two apps (both are word games) and we might see others sometime this year.

The most interesting ones for me will be the ones that will replicate what can already be done via the Kindle 3 Browser -

  1. Email Clients. 
  2. Weather Apps. 
  3. Finance Apps. 
  4. Chat.
  5. RSS readers.

Hopefully there will be some surprises that are better and more impactful. However, these apps are fascinating because they show the huge difference between custom-built apps and apps/features that are accessible through the browser.

Let’s just run through a few different things -

  1. Path of Least Resistance. 
  2. People wanting an app made especially for them.
  3. People wanting an app custom-tailored to their device. 
  4. Understanding Kindle (or device) owners.
  5. Power of the Default and What People are Trained to Look at and Look for.
  6. Individual Choice.
  7. The power of focus and focused information.

Let’s start with the Path of Least Resistance as it probably plays the biggest part.

Path of Least Resistance dictates Apps win over Browser based apps

Contrast the two situations -

  1. User selects Menu, selects Experimental, selects browser, fires up the browser, types in URL or selects it from favorites list, a website loads, user zooms in, finds the link that will have the relevant information, clicks and then waits for the new page to load, and finally gets the information he’s looking for. 
  2. User clicks on ‘Apps’ folder, clicks on App, and is greeted with the information he wants (we’re assuming the app is smart/customizable enough to show him the appropriate information when launched).

In the first case there are 10 different steps, three waits (load browser, load website, load relevant page of website), and two complicated steps of finding the right link/information on the page.

In the second case there are 2 steps and two waits i.e. app opening, app loading information.

This little distinction (10 steps vs 2 steps) is either invisible to web app developers or they think users will prioritize developers’ comfort over users’ own time and comfort.

This difference in ease of use is also why the magical ‘web browser based apps’ that work on any platform don’t succeed on any platform at all.

People want an App made especially for them

Developers hear ‘one app for all platforms’ and salivate at the prospect. Users hate it.

Why would an iPhone owner want an app that also optimizes for Kindle 3? Why would a Kindle 3 owner want an app that also optimizes for iPhone 4?

Apps make sense because we are human and we want things made especially for us.

People want an app custom-tailored to their device

Kindle 3 doesn’t have number keys but it has a physical keyboard. Nook doesn’t have a physical keyboard but it has an on-screen keyboard on its touchscreen.

Let’s say we make a simple chess game and use shortcuts i.e. b8 to b6 or whatever the notations are. We let users move via the keyboard. You couldn’t get the same scheme to work as well on both eReaders.

Kindle 3 users would end up pulling their hair out if they had to use Alt+Qwerty twice for every move and Nook owners would go crazy if you made something that didn’t work well with a touch based on-screen keyboard.

With a browser it gets even worse because not only is the magical web app not tailored to the individual device it’s not tailored to the individual browser. Take iPhone, Kindle, and Nook - each has a different browser, each is a very unique device. How could a single web app be great at serving all three?

If you contrast a web app with an iPhone app you get -

  1. No optimization for the iPhone itself in the web app. 
  2. No optimization for the iPhone’s browser – even in the rare cases optimization is done it’s usually inadequate.
  3. No optimization for iPhone owners.

The third is pretty interesting.

Apps are focused and understand the customer better

A web app or a web service is making lots and lots of assumptions – What features people will like, what links should go first, the ratio of graphics to gameplay/content, and so forth.

Those assumptions all become wrong when you narrow down to a particular device. You can pretty much guarantee the average Kindle owner is vastly different from the average user of Espn.com.

A Kindle App would be built with Kindle owners in mind – Every single little decision would be taken keeping in mind what Kindle owners want. There’s no way a web app could compete with that.

Power of the Default and what people look for

Where do Kindle owners spend their money? Kindle Store. Where are they willing to pay for news? Kindle Store. Where would they look for games and apps and entertainment? Kindle Store.

A lot of Kindle owners didn’t even know there was a browser. The vast majority didn’t use it. It might change a little but not enough to make web browser based apps viable on Kindle 3. The browser is hidden away on the experimental page while every single menu has ‘Shop in the Kindle Store’ at the top.

Kindle owners will expect apps to be available in the Kindle Store and to show up as items on their home page and to fit into Collections and to behave the way books currently do (open, close, previous page, next page). A web app can’t do any of that.

Individual Choice

This is a very underrated aspect of apps – You can place them anywhere you like and decide what their importance is.

Any web app is always hidden behind the browser and the url.

On the Kindle or the iPhone or the iPad you have your home page and your collections and your main apps. There isn’t really an equivalent with browsers – bookmarks are a poor substitute and they are secondary to the url and the search box.

It’s like decorating your house – you want your favorite things around you and/or displayed where everyone can notice them.

Power of focus and focused information

By having an app that’s custom-built for a particular set of users (those who own the device) you free yourself up a lot -

  1. No distractions about who your customer is. This might not seem like a big deal but it’s huge because that’s the #1 problem – finding customers. 
  2. It’s easier to know what problem you’re solving. Example: If you make an email client then you know you’re making it easy for Kindle owners to use Kindle for email.
  3. You have a ton of information on Kindle owners. Demographics, what they like, what they’re asking for.  
  4. Amazon handles everything for you i.e. billing, credit cards, collections. If you do a web-app you have to handle that yourself.
  5. No danger of piracy. It’s a closed system. On the other hand, if you do things online you have 10 people using the same account and stolen accounts and all sorts of problems.

There are just so many advantages – 70% of developers flocking to app stores has to do with the convenience and being able to focus on just coding. 

Downsides of App Stores

The downside is you have to play by the rules. Developers like to complain about the App Review process but what it really is is the lack of control. It’s not that they don’t like the quality control – they don’t like the fact that they aren’t the ones doing it.

Basically, web apps are tailored to developers’ fantasies – none of the hard work to build a custom app for each platform, none of the trouble to understand each audience. It’s ‘make once and sell everywhere’.

Apps are tailored to a user’s fantasies – they work on the user’s device, they are optimized for her device, they work the way she expects them to, and they are easy to get and access.

Since users are paying the money there should be little doubt that users’ fantasies will win out over developers’ fantasies. The Kindle App Store, whenever it arrives, will prove this as apps that make no sense to ‘web app’ developers like News Apps, Email Apps, and Finance Apps will do very, very well.

10 Responses

  1. I’m hoping to see a full web browser that can actually use gmail properly with google voice/chat. Kindle can become the bestmobile phone device without even trying

  2. It’s my understanding that you can create a .txt document with URLS in it, open the document and click on a link to open the browser and go to a web page.

    That would eliminate several of the steps you mention to launch a web app.

  3. Where do I find those apps anyway?

    • Joe, the app store isn’t open yet. However, given the two apps released and the fact that a beta has been going on since February we should see something by end of this year.

  4. This echoes my own feelings exactly—I am excited for the possibilities of Kindle RSS readers in particular.

    I do have doubts about whether this will happen or not, though, and they all link back to this phrase from the terms of the Kindle developer’s beta:
    “Active content applications have an upper size limit of 100MB.”

    As I understand it, this means that Amazon is restricting Kindle applications to no more than 100MB of bandwidth every month. The business reasons for this are obvious—maintaining free 3G access would be all but impossible with anything approaching iPhone-level usage of the network—but it’s going to severely hamper RSS-reader type apps, which can gobble up that 100mb in a hurry as you flip through articles and images.

    • They mean the size of the file of the app. The apps that use bandwidth have to pay if they use more than 100 kb a month. It’s 15 cents per MB of bandwidth used.

      • Thank you for the clarification. So it sounds like users of an RSS reader will just get hit with a monthly subscription fee for the app, then… that’s still too bad, but arguably no worse than buying a monthly subscription to a blog.

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