Hate Apple's App Store? Developing for Kindle won't be any freer

Amazon.com's Kindle Development Kit lets you build 'active content,' not software -- so where does that leave developers?

If you thought Apple's iPhone development model was restrictive, brace yourself for Amazon.com's. Even as Steve Jobs made headlines with the iPad, a device that promises to add e-books to Apple's online media empire, Amazon.com stole some wind from his sails with an announcement of its own. The Kindle Development Kit, due to enter limited beta later this month, will open up Amazon's e-reader platform to outside developers for the first time. But if potential Kindle developers were hoping for a free-for-all platform, they'd better think again.

Apple has been criticized in recent months for the tightfisted control it maintains over its App Store, which is the only officially sanctioned retail channel for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad apps. Developers have complained that the approval process for new apps is inordinately long, and that apps have been rejected from the store for seemingly arbitrary or capricious reasons.

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Far from being an object lesson in overzealous management, however, the App Store seems destined to be the model for other consumer electronics vendors, including Amazon.com. The online retailer shows every indication that it will follow Apple's example when it opens the Kindle Store to developers later this year, and there are signs that the Kindle platform will be even more restrictive than Apple's. In so doing, Amazon.com is writing the next chapter in the ongoing story of the struggle between independent developers and platform vendors for control of the computing market.

Opening Kindle's kimono (sort of)
Increasingly, a thriving developer community is considered a key to the success of any new consumer electronics device. Because the iPad is based on the same OS as the iPhone and iPod Touch and shares those devices' ARM processor architecture, it can run almost any of the thousands of apps already available for its smaller cousins. Apple is betting that this rich software market will make the iPad seem like a better value than the Kindle, which so far has been limited to e-book viewing.

But if Amazon.com now recognizes the value of third-party software on its Kindle platform, it's in no hurry to beat Apple at its own game. The initial beta period for the Kindle Development Kit will be invite-only, to be gradually widened later. Details are scanty. We are told that beta participants will be supplied with tools, documentation, and a Kindle emulator, but beyond the likelihood that the Development Kit will be based on Java and Eclipse, the actual APIs that will be available are unknown.

Suggested Kindle apps include word games, puzzles, smart cookbooks, and location-based travel guides. "We look forward to being surprised by what developers invent," says Ian Freed, Amazon's vice president for Kindle.

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