Our Kindle Speed Reading App and the truth about Kindle App Approval Process

This comment from Tim made me think it’d be worth sharing some information about our ‘Improve Your Reading Speed’ app and why it won’t be coming out. And might as well share information about other apps that Amazon hasn’t approved and probably never will.

Tim - 2 hours ago 

I agree with Mary – concentrate on something that Amazon or others might not do. I reckon the Kindle is a perfect format for a speed-reading app, and that a good number of its users would be very interested in that.

@Sandy Spruill – if you download Caliber and then download instal the Kindle Collections plugin from the Caliber plug-ins page, you can organise your collections.

We’ve also had users leave comments before and even email us. The infinite irony of this is that we’ve had a Reading Speed App submitted since September 2010. Over a year ago. Amazon just keeps finding reasons to not let it go out to Kindle owners.

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We do have a Reading Speed App. It has the following:

  1. A 7 day course on learning how to speed read.
  2. 15 public domain books to test on and measure reading speed on.
  3. A tracker that tracks your reading speed and shows it graphically.

Here is a screenshot. You basically go into a practice book, tap ‘Start’, read a few pages, then tap ‘Stop’, and it measures your reading speed. There’s a course that explains how to improve your reading speed.

Reading Speed App

Improve Your Reading Speed

It does not have the following:

  1. Option to speed read through every Kindle book. Apps are not allowed to access books so this is not possible at the moment. Ideally we’d like to make something that lets you measure your reading speed in any book and also use auto-page turns or Random Serial Visual Presentation to speed-read any book. However, Kindle Apps are NOT ALLOWED to access books.

This ‘Improve Your Reading Speed’ app is probably never going to come out.

Amazon rationale:

  1. We have no credentials to release a reading speed app.
  2. There are legal concerns. Given that there are 50 different speed reading software available for the PC and for smartphones this seems like nonsense.
  3. Users who don’t see their reading speed improve will give it a negative review.
  4. Price is too high. I have a simple answer – Let us make it WiFi only and we’ll sell it for $1. We get charged 15 cents per MB and this app is 2.5 MB so if Amazon makes it WiFi only (and then users can use WiFi or PC to download) we’ll make it $1. The aim is to help people improve their reading speed and $1 is fine. We just can’t manage $1 if we also have to pay 40 cents for every single download of the app.

Honestly, I think Amazon is just delaying us because it is shopping the app idea around and seeing if it can get some more ‘palatable’ & ‘established’ company to do it first.

Here are the key dates:

  1. October 2010: App Submitted in working form.
  2. October and November 2010: Amazon tell us that they will have some people internally ‘who know speed reading’ look at our app and give ideas. Because ‘some random person at Amazon with a fleeting interest in speed reading’ should naturally tell the people who made the software how to design it.
  3. November, December, January 2010: Prioritization of Apps like ‘Tic Tac Toe’ and ‘Flip It’ since Amazon thought that out of the 24 Apps we submitted (Notepad, Calendar, ToDo List, Reading Speed, Weather, etc.) the ones most valuable to Kindle owners would be Tic Tac Toe and FlipIt (the only two games).
  4. This year we restarted the idea (thinking that after Notepad and Calendar we would be able to get over Amazon’s ‘credentials’ objection. Amazon wanted to ‘Approve the Idea’ and took two months to approve it. 2 months for some committee at Amazon to give their stamp of approval.
  5. Then we submitted the app (works for all eInk Kindles except Kindle Touch) and just last week Amazon says – You might as well do some other app, because this app will take 3 months to approve.

This is an app with an entire book reading component. It’s only when the entire app is done (and modified for Kindle 4 so it works without a keyboard) that Amazon suddenly decided it’s not good enough.

So an app that we really, really want to make for Kindle owners and will sell for $1 if Amazon lets us do WiFi only (so we don’t have to pay 40 cents every single time the app is downloaded) – Amazon won’t let us. It’d rather we made me-too apps like Tic Tac Toe and random games.

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Even Apps that are approved are a journey through Hell. Kindle Notepad only got shipped after we threatened to leave the store.

Our Kindle Notepad update took 2.5 months to get approved. Again, after threatening to leave the store. Calendar and Kindle Notepad update shipped on the same day and only because we again threatened to leave the store.

It’s just very disheartening when the only way to get an app approved is to use threats and go through months and months of waiting.

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Here are some other apps that aren’t approved:

  1. Notes with Email. This is a Notes App that lets you keep three tabs of notes and also email them out. Reason Not Approved: It uses 3G. Note: Amazon won’t add API to differentiate between WiFi and 3G. It won’t let us cover 3G costs either. 
  2. Weather. This is not approved because it would use wireless data. 
  3. Please Return Me App. This is an app you can leave running on your Kindle when you leave the house. If someone finds your Kindle, they can email you from the app itself. Reason not Approved: Use of 3G. Because we are sending email to user email account and that counts as ‘user information’ and is risky. This is despite us switching to Amazon’s Simple Email Service.
  4. Personality Test Apps. Reason not allowed: Because we don’t have the ‘credentials’.
  5. Page Number Guesser. This was a simple app that let users enter page numbers and locations for a book and then look up things. Note: This isn’t very useful because apps can’t access books themselves – so it would be a reference outside the app.
  6. Photos – A File Manager that lets you keep photos, create folders (multi-level) and put photos in them, view slideshows. Reason: Not sure.

These are just some of the apps not approved. Most of these apps fall into the categories of

  • Apps that Amazon thinks we have no business releasing. OR
  • Apps that use wireless data and Amazon can’t be bothered to release an API that differentiaties between WiFi and 3G. Note: It won’t let us release 3G apps even if we agree to pay for 3G data.

Apps that do get approved aren’t a cakewalk either. Calculator took 9 months to get approved. In the interim another company got to release their app first (they are a launch partner). Kindle Tips took nearly an entire year.

Kindle App Team keeps ‘suggesting’ we make apps free and when we don’t then that app gets ignored for months.

Our team thinks it’s Kindle owners who should decide whether an app idea is good for users or not. Not middle management at Amazon.

And that an app shouldn’t be stopped because Amazon’s Kindle App team is scared that some users might give it bad reviews. Should a Speed Reading App that will benefit tens of thousands of users be not released because a few dozen users might leave 1-star reviews?

If you find one or more of these apps appealing, please email Mike Nash, who’s the head of the Kindle App Team. Perhaps he can explain why an app on Reading Speed is not being allowed to ship because of the fear that a few people might give it a 1-star review, and why all the above apps like Weather and Personality Tests and Email Apps are not OK to release. His email is mikenash@amazon.com.

Finally, every single Kindle App developer I’ve talked to has the same problems i.e. Kindle App Team thinks they know better than Kindle owners what apps they should get. They won’t add things like ‘sound API’ so no alarm clock apps are possible, they won’t allow a WiFi API so we can’t add apps that use wireless, and they won’t allow access to books so Collections Organizers and Page Number Apps etc. can’t be made.

Also, the Kindle Touch Development Kit was shared with only a limited group of large companies. And everyone else had to wait a month. Which guarantees that all the ‘non-privileged’ companies won’t be able to get Touch versions of their apps out for Christmas. Basically, companies like EA get exclusive access to Touch Kindle owners for Christmas and the new year.

Here are a few more developers who are experiencing the infinite joy of Amazon’s Kindle Apps Team (Bolding is mine). 

Source: http://forums.kindlecentral.com/forums/thread.jspa?threadID=1034&tstart=30

Developer #1:

Can I get a new contact at Amazon. To other developers: beware 

 was asked by a developer at Amazon to make an application offered on another mobile platform for the Kindle. I accepted, signed up, purchased a Kindle reader learned how to program on this platform. A few weeks into development, my contact at Amazon asks to see my progress, tells me things look like they’re moving in the right direction with my project. He informs me there is too much ghosting, to which I answer, that introducing more frequent flashing will take away too much from the speed of the program. I did not think the ghosting was bad at all. He informs me that it is already really fast and flashing will not make the program too slow. So, I introduce flashing with every screen repaint as he requested instead of flashing every 10 or so screens like I was doing (if I am not mistaken, a flash every 10 screens max is the recommendation in the documentation).

I finish the program, submit it. A few days later I get an email asking if he could get in touch with me about some feedback on my program. Of course, I say, any time is fine. I hear no feedback for days. I email him asking for the feedback again, and I finally get it. The feedback indicates that the team does not think the format of my program (which I have been selling for years on another platform and was asked to bring over to Kindle by someone at Amazon) is not acceptable. I am wondering why I was even asked to join this project if my application wasn’t acceptable. Also, the flashing I implemented at the request of my contact is not acceptable to the team, as they indicate my application is too slow. I’m sorry but I can’t help that flashing takes to long and my contact wants flashing with every repaint. The team, is suggesting I make other changes to my program which I disagree with. Okay fine, I can accept they want changes and I will make some of them, but some of the changes being recommended by the team are just not possible and others I need clarification on. I have emailed my contact with questions about the feedback from the team and I am totally frustrated at the lack of response and the contradictory feedback.

I’m 40,000 lines of code into my project, and these changes are requiring me to make considerable alterations. If Amazon is going to demand this much control over what they allow in the store, I need some support from them, and I am not getting it. I have had at least four important emails go unresponded. My contact is very good at making demands, but is doing very little to address my questions and other issues.

So now I have a 40,000 code line immaculate work of art, ready for deployment by  reasonable means, and I can’t get some simple answers about the feedback I am getting. It appears Amazon is throwing me under the bus. I have spent at least 240 hours on this project. I refuse to work like this.

To the other developers: What are you experiences with the review process? Be aware that this may happen to you. Be cautious of investing too much time into your projects before getting feedback. Even if you are getting regular feedback during development, it seems they have no problem reversing their stance later.

To Amazon: get me a contact that is going to actually RESPOND TO MY EMAILS AND NOT JUST MAKE DEMANDS, immediately. I don’t have endless resources to spend on this project.I am 240 hours in the hole on this project, and I have to find a way to, you know, pay for my housing and food, so some help would be great. 

email: [removed]

Thanks,
Scott

Developer #2:

This is not too different from my own experiences. After weeks and months of slow and often technically uninformed (the so-called engineer I was referred to for one problem in my app wasn’t even aware of a bug that has been discussed in these forums a couple of times only to suggest a workaround that – as discussed in the forums as well – is impossible with the current kdk) feedback I finally got the technical ok from the QA team only to be informed by my contact that the current design of my app was “not viable”. There were two – supposedly better – similar apps on the market and mine wouldn’t be able to compete with them. Apart from the fact that all information required to come to this conclusion must have been available to them for a long time I don’t agree (also, the financial risk is mine isn’t it?). I asked for clarification of the rather general statement and suggestions for improvement but only received vague dismissive answers. My last two emails on the matter (sent weeks ago) have remained unanswered.

I’ve been quite angry about the matter for a while but have now decided to invest my time and effort elsewhere.

I find this really baffling. Amazon is an international multi-billion company that wants to go up against the likes of Apple and Google but seems to think it can get along with a half-assed bug-ridden poorly maintained sdk and shoddy developer relations. I think this is not going to cut it..

13 Responses

  1. I’ve heard about problems that app developers have been having for a while, and it seems really strange to me because of how well they treat authors. In addition to the details here about trouble getting approved, I’ve also heard of discontent with app developers who are listed as free app of the day. I keep hoping things will get better for them, but seeing stuff like this makes it clear that it hasn’t. Creating an app can easily take as much time as writing a book, although probably far fewer people do it. They need the support and capability to get apps into the Amazon appstore, or it’ll never really hold a candle to the Apple store or Google Market.

  2. Hi Steve, I never actually thought about it because I average 3 titles a week just by reading myself to sleep and catching a few pages on my break at work…
    I would LOVE to learn speed reading because I understand it also increases your comprehension of what you’ve read.
    Make sure you post again when it “gets approved” by the Amazon gods/goddesses :)

  3. Maybe an email to Jeff Bezos? You can’t always assume that those at the top know all that goes on below. I can’t imagine him allowing this to go on when everything else such as customer service, Prime benefits, new & better ideas, etc. is so good. Makes no sense. Are they working with less people to do more work like alot of companies right now or are they just lazy?

    • Pam, thanks for that suggestion. I will write an email to Jeff Bezos in a few days. It might be that this team is not big enough to handle the amount of work involved in running an app store. It’s an insane amount of work – almost like running an entire store.

  4. I’m sorry to here that Amazon is making it so difficult. I’d love that speed-reading app.

  5. “And that an app shouldn’t be stopped because Amazon’s Kindle App team is scared that some users might give it bad reviews. Should a Speed Reading App that will benefit tens of thousands of users be not released because a few dozen users might leave 1-star reviews?”

    The guy you’re dealing with is probably afraid that his superiors will see one-star reviews as evidence that he’s not doing his job. “Amazon doesn’t want any unhappy customers”–this may have been dinned into him. It may have become a slogan that is unthinkingly applied to every situation, with negative effects overall—as in this case.

    • Why does Amazon prefer a “Curated Zoo” model over a “Survival of the fittest” model for their Kindle app store?

      Why does Amazon throttle app releases and updates?

      Why is the Kindle Development Kit in beta but the apps aren’t beta?

      Why does Amazon ask multiple developers to develop the same app?

      Why does Amazon ask for apps to be submitted and then not release them?

      Why does Amazon not allow applications to be sold for wifi-only devices?

      Why does Amazon give preferential treatment to some developers over others with regards to access to development resources?

      Why does Amazon charge so much to the developers for download costs?

      Why does Amazon not share a roadmap for the devices so developers can calculate the time to recoup investments?

      Why does Amazon prioritize new releases over updates?

      Why does Amazon not let developers talk directly to users or even have the ability to verify that they’ve purchased an application?

      Why does Amazon not allow developers access to the number of units sold on a per device basis?

      Why does Amazon not allow developers to determine how much of the downloads are for new purchases versus re-downloads?

      Why does Amazon not allow applications to use sound on the Kindle?

      Why does Amazon not allow in-app purchases?

      Why does Amazon not allow in-app ads?

      Why does Amazon give release dates and then not release an application?

      Why does Amazon not share with developers where their applications are in the approval process?

      Why does Amazon not care about the ecosystem they are developing?

  6. [...] today. There’s a fascinating post over it iReaderReview that offers a behind the scenes look. Amazon’s approval process for games and apps for the [...]

  7. I wish I could find some way to reward you for all that hard work. That speed reading app sounds like a winner. All I can say is that what you describe may eventually do in Amazon seemingly successful tablet efforts. When the Fire was first announced, I thought of getting one. After all it had 80% of the features of an iPad for 40% of the price.

    But then I came to my senses. It’s not the hardware that matters. It’s the apps that can run on a device that make it valuable. Judging by the paucity of apps on ePaper Kindles, the Fire is likely to have only 5-10% of the really useful apps of the iPad. And by ‘really useful’ I mean apps that do more than consume content bought from Amazon. Your troubles confirm my hunch that Amazon isn’t developer friendly. Apple’s own app approval process may have problems, though they seem to be fading, but they’re not even remotely that bad.

    For what it is worth. I just had a clash with Amazon over the fact that I typically note one of the books I’ve written in my posted book reviews. Two years ago, that was apparently OK. Now the ‘little Hitler’ rule enforcers at Amazon not only claim that what I did is verboten but threatened to yank those reviews of I didn’t edit out those mentions. I told them to get lost. I didn’t work for them and wasn’t going to spend my time catering to their latest bit of nonsense. And as in your situation, they’re behaving like idiots. I mostly read books I like and review them favorably. This’ll only hurt their sales.

    That experience illustrates that your remarks about Amazon’s weirdness applies equally well to my speciality, writing books. It’s not only normal in the publishing world for reviewers to be allowed to mention their books with their reviews, it’s expected. Only the clueless twits at Amazon think that having edited an award-winning, 447-page book on World War I (Chesterton on War and Peace) wasn’t relevant to reviewing a book about WWI. They seem want reviews along the lines of, “I like this book because the cover matches the decor in my apartment.” And if they continue to treat writers/reviewers badly, that’s what they’ll get.

    • Michael, thanks for your comment and for the sentiment.

      We’ll find a way to get the app into Kindle Fire store. It’s the Kindle Store where it’s hard to get it in.

      Sorry to hear about the strange new rules on reviews. I’ve seen authors mention their own books all along and that’s completely fine. It’s an exchange of value and hearing from an expert in the field is obviously what most people want. It’s strange that Amazon is highlighting reviews from Publishers Weekly and BookList on the one hand, and on the other hand it’s stopping authors and experts from sharing their view.

      Reviews are a big, and perhaps the biggest reason, users come to Amazon. If they start sabotaging reviews then slowly people will start leaving.

  8. I’m not sure you’re dealing with people who are in the position to make actual high-level decisions about the long-term viability and interests of preserving the Kindle– it sounds like you’re been talking to marketing/accounts people– every developer knows that mid-level management will give a million reasons to say no, that’s their job– contact someone in the executive suites close to Bezos (not Bezos, but close to Bezos, who works on strategy).

    Pitch it as a Kindle app that will make people redefine the reason why they will not only purchase the Kindle in droves, but purchase more Kindle books– something tells me the simple proposition has been neglected to mention– that if someone reads Kindle books faster, they’ll buy more Kindle books more frequently. It’s basic economics a standard accounts person who doesn’t care much about their pittance of stock options is terribly invested in. Talk to people with a lot of stock options in Amazon, you’ll get something– trust me, I’ve done this with Apple.

    Best of luck to you, you couldn’t find a more sympathetic ear when it comes to speed reading on a pad.

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