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Amazon’s Cloud Reader

As promised earlier this week, today I’ll introduce you to Amazon’s (other) new service, the Amazon Cloud Reader.  The Cloud Reader was unveiled on August 10, and unlike Kindle.Amazon.com, this service is one that actually has gotten some stage time on the Amazon homepage.  But stage time is about all it has gotten. By this, I mean that while Amazon features the Cloud Reader prominently on its homepage, you actually ge surprisingly little information about it until after you’ve installed it.  After writing one post on a subterranean Kindle service, I’m not sure why I was surprised, but I was surprised nevertheless. Basically, if users click on the “Read Now” link, they are taken to an installation page, rather than an information page. Call me skeptical if you will, but I want to know what I’ll be installing before I make such a decision, but such was not an option (unless you leave Amazon and turn to the trusty interwebs). But in the name of ProfHacker research, I went ahead on down the rabbit hole so you don’t have to.

What is the Cloud Reader? In a nutshell, it’s very similar to the Cloud Drive service Amazon debuted earlier this year for MP3 downloads (though you can use it to store not just MP3s but other kinds of data as well).  It’s a web-based app that allows you to access your Kindle books over the internet as long as you are using either Chrome or Safari as your web-browser. In many ways, this app is quite similar to the pre-existing Kindle app for your iPhone or iPad.  There are two important differences.

The first major difference is that unlike on the native iOS Kindle app, users can now purchase material directly from their iPad or iPhone through the Cloud Reader. Previously, users had to purchase content through a different device and send it to their iOS device manually.  In other words, if I wanted to read a Kindle book on my iPad, I had to go to my computer, log in to Amazon, buy the book, and have it sent to my iPad.  If I had already bought a book either on the computer or my Kindle, I had to do the same thing or visit the “Archive” page on the iPad app to download content.  It was not possible to shop the Kindle store for new content on the iPad, though from the more recent reviews on the Apple app store Kindle App page, I gather that this is a relatively recent change.

This change is likely in response to an Apple policy which nets them a substantial portion of the proceeds from content purchased on the device (Undoubtedly, some of our readers will remember a kerfluffle in the Spring wherein Apple declined to allow a Sony e-reader app because it violated this policy.) In any event, the process of having to go to a computer to purchase content makes using a smartphone or tablet computer as e-reader a bit more tedious and less convenient that users might prefer.  But by turning to the cloud, Amazon has circumvented such a requirement, allowing users access to the Kindle store on an iPhone or iPad, since the purchasing is done on Amazon’s website rather than through the app.  Granted, it’s a bit of a workaround, but the important thing here is that it does, in fact, work.

Not only can you access the Kindle store on an iPad now, but the store interface is much faster and easier to navigate than the Kindle store on an actual Kindle. Plus it’s stunningly beautiful. I’ve said earlier this week that I prefer reading on my Kindle. As of this very second, I can say unequivocally, I prefer shopping on my iPad. Swoon. Cover art of user recommendations is emblazoned across the top of the store. Underneath are lists of the Top Sellers (both paid and free), “New & Noteworthy Books,” Editor’s Picks, and Amazon Singles.  The familiar generic classifications also run down the left side of the screen. The only hiccup I have found is that it is still a bit wearisome to transfer content between devices.  To wit, to transfer the book I purchased on my iPad to my Kindle, I had to go to my computer, log in to my Amazon account, and visit “Manage my Devices,” where I then could send the book to the Kindle manually.

The second major difference is that unlike the Kindle app (or the Kindle device, for that matter), Cloud Reader does not support notes or highlighting, at least not yet. Given the push towards social networking on the Kindle as evidenced by Kindle.Amazon.com, such a lack of support for annotation is rather puzzling. Taking notes and highlighting, however, are still features of the Kindle App, so if that’s your thing, once you have downloaded your content from the cloud, you might want to revisit an old friend–the original Kindle app on your device–for your actual reading practice. Otherwise the reading interface on the two apps is identical.  Both offer the adjustable font size, the choice of black, sepia or white backscreen, and the same page-turning prompts.

The only other issue with Cloud Reader is a familiar one for those who have used other Kindle-based interfaces, whether on a phone or a computer: to sync these devices with your Kindle, you must have your wireless enabled on the e-reader itself. Personally, I much prefer to have the wireless turned off for the extended battery performance this provides.  But without wireless access, the Cloud Reader cannot learn where you stopped reading and take you to the same location on another device.  This seamless transition between devices is a rather nice feature that can come in handy, especially if you don’t carry all of your electronics with you all the time.

Have you had a chance to experiment with the Kindle Cloud Reader yet?  What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.

[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user Claudio Matsuoka]

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