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Amazon Avoids Apple Toll With Kindle Cloud Reader

HTML5-based Web app lets Amazon get around Apple's App Store subscription rules, hold onto more ebook revenue.

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Amazon has embraced Web apps as a way around Apple's App Store subscription rules. The company on Tuesday introduced Kindle Cloud Reader, an HTML5-based ebook reading app that provides access to Kindle content in the cloud and to Amazon's Kindle Store.

Apple in February forbade iOS app publishers from selling content like ebooks or subscriptions through mechanisms other than Apple's in-app purchase system unless they also offered that same content through Apple at a price that's the same or lower. Because Apple takes a 30% cut of sales made through its in-app purchasing system, as it does for App Store downloads, some publishers found their business models no longer worked with Apple as a gatekeeper. Particularly for Amazon, which competes with Apple to sell ebooks, this arrangement was not tenable.

In June, after publisher complaints, Apple relaxed its rules somewhat, requiring only that apps selling content not include a link to external content stores. But the amended rules still posed problems for Amazon. Amazon had included a Kindle Store link in its Kindle app for iOS. Once Apple's rules took effect, the company issued an update to remove that link.

With the release of its Kindle Cloud Reader app, Amazon is bypassing Apple's tollbooth. Apple has authority over iOS apps by virtue of the agreements it requires iOS developers and iOS app publishers to sign. HTML5, however, is not a proprietary technology and developers are free to create Web apps as they see fit. However, that freedom means giving up the native app experience, access to the iTunes App Store audience, and upcoming iOS 5 features like Newsstand.

Amazon is not the only content seller turning to HTML5. In June, the Financial Times launched a Web-based app for the iPad and other tablets that provides an opportunity to subscribe that doesn't involve Apple.

The Kindle Cloud Reader has been optimized for the desktop version of Apple's Safari browser, for mobile Safari on the iPad (but not the iPhone), and for the desktop version of Google's Chrome browser. Amazon says it will update its Web app to support Internet Explorer, Firefox, the BlackBerry PlayBook browser, and other mobile browsers in the months ahead.

"We have written the application from the ground up in HTML5, so that customers can also access their content offline directly from their browser," said Amazon Kindle director Dorothy Nicholls in a statement. "The flexibility of HTML5 allows us to build one application that automatically adapts to the platform you're using--from Chrome to iOS."

Nicholls said that Amazon has added an integrated, touch-optimized version of its Kindle Store into Cloud Reader to facilitate one-click access to Kindle titles. Kindle Cloud Reader automatically downloads Kindle ebooks from Amazon's servers for offline access.

The debate about the merits of native apps and Web apps has been going on for several years now. While native apps still seem to be favored, at least on mobile devices, for reasons of performance, user experience, and monetization, the arrival of Web apps from major platform players like Amazon shows that there's no clear winner anymore.

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