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?

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Amazon.com's terse developer guidelines, on the other hand, say more about what Kindle developers cannot do than what they can. VoIP software is banned, as are "generic readers" that could bypass Amazon.com's DRM-centric sales model. Encouragingly, advertising and apps that collect information about customers without their express consent are not allowed, but neither are "offensive materials," which is a troubling sentiment coming from one of the nation's largest booksellers.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Amazon.com's announcement, however, is its language. It refers to "applications" several times, but only in the context of another term: "active content." It seems the programmatic nature of Kindle apps is meant to be secondary to their role in providing media to the customer. Kindle developers won't be writing Kindle software; they'll be authoring content that is not static. The fact that this might involve writing some Java code is only an ancillary concern.

It's an electronic book, not a PC
Amazon.com's walled-garden view of its developer ecosystem is one that will become increasingly prevalent in the post-PC era. The Kindle was not conceived as a general-purpose computing device, and Amazon.com does not intend it to become one. By opening its platform to independent developers, it hopes to increase the perceived value of the Kindle to consumers, but only so long as developers stay "on message." That's sure to be a disappointment to developers who are troubled by Apple's model and who long for the freedom of the early PC software market.

On the other hand, if there's a bright side to Amazon.com's approach, it's that the Kindle brand does not risk becoming muddied by conflicting messages. The Kindle is foremost a reading device, and its active content applications don't seem likely to stray far from that mission. By comparison, one criticism of the iPad is that it doesn't seem to do any one thing well enough to make it attractive for the price. With its thousands of games and other apps, Apple's "Jesus tablet" seems so determined to be all things to all people -- without offering anything truly new -- that it risks not finding a market at all. (We'll see once it starts shipping in April.)

Whether or not you agree with such tightly controlled developer programs, the reality is that today's developers must partner with platform vendors like never before. This is becoming true on desktop operating systems as well as devices -- witness Windows with .Net, or Mac OS X with its APIs based on Objective-C. Platform vendors provide opportunities for independent developers, but only so long as developers play by their rules.

Need I remind anyone that Richard Stallman told us so?

This article, "Hate Apple's App Store? Developing for Kindle won't be any freer," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest news in software development at InfoWorld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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