Amazon’s New Web App: Good, Bad, No Ugly

Amazon.com today released its HTML5 Web version of the Kindle reader and online store combination. Clearly a response to Apple's heavy-handed restrictions on allowing the sale of ancillary content from within apps sold through its App Store, the new Web solution is a welcome addition to my iPad and another strong indicator that HTML5 is a tidal wave that will, without question, ultimately replace proprietary technologies.

That's not to say there isn't some cruft in with the welcome news. The biggest issue for me: Highlighting of text is not supported. This is a very real problem for me; I use this feature constantly and I probably won't be able to switch to the Web app for my reading until this one's fixed.

First, the good stuff.
  • It's HTML5! Any time a new HTML5 solution emerges that provides the substantial look and feel of a desktop app, it's one more nail in the coffin of proprietary technologies that have never had a legitimate place on the Open Web.
  • The bookshelf experience is clean, familiar and reasonably responsive.
  • Books you want to use on your iPad or other browser reader are downloaded in the background quite seamlessly and efficiently.
  • The experience of the Kindle store is well-translated from app to browser.
Now, the not-so-good (aka bad) stuff.
  • While it's understandable that Amazon can't support browsers (like Firefox) that don't support offline features of HTML5 well or at all, there doesn't seem to be a good reason not to allow the app to run on Safari on iPhone. Yeah, the UI is clearly optimized for the iPad, but still….
  • The overall experience is clearly not as smooth as the native app (and couldn't be).
  • App switching is quite slow because each time you switch from one app back to the browser-based app, it appears to re-load the entire page. Not sure why they're not doing a better job of caching here, but it could be an HTML5-on-Safari limitation.
  • Another problem with app-switching arises if you install the Web app as a desktop icon and switch from another app to that icon rather than to Safari (which runs the icon, of course). Safari remembers where you were before you switched out; the desktop icon/app doesn't. Weird.
  • The Kindle Store, while largely well done, has some UI problems. For example, if you go into your account and select a previously purchased item, then try to get it delivered to a specific device, you'll find it maddeningly difficult to tap in exactly the right place on the disclosure diamond next to the option, which then opens a dropdown list from which to make the choice. There are other places where screen real estate has been used unwisely.
  • "Sort recent" doesn't, at lest not for books in the cloud as they are initially placed in your bookshelf. My books were not sorted in any order I could determine.
  • Installing the app on the desktop went fine but produced what appeared to be a bogus error about installation problems. When I tapped on the inconspicuous error message at the bottom of the screen, it immediately disappeared and the install was clearly fine.
I'm sure I'll uncover other stuff as I use the app in coming days, though for now at least — until someone forces my hand — I'll keep using the standalone app as long as I can keep the seamless in-app purchase. I'm sure that at some point Apple will figure out a way to force me to upgrade. Meanwhile, I'll keep an eye on developments in the Web app. But I'm definitely glad to see it arrive.

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