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Where are the apps for ereaders?

Developers and ereader vendors are missing an app opportunity

I read on my GlowLight NOOK much more frequently than I read on my Asus Transformer tablet. I’d say there’s at least a 10:1 differential, so for every hour I read on my tablet I read at least 10 hours on my Glowlight Nook. I’ll bet I’m not alone and people who own both an E Ink device and a tablet probably do much more reading on the former. So why is the apps ecosystem limited to tablets? Why are there no add-on apps for E Ink devices in general?

In a recent TOC newsletter we asked readers “What do you wish your ereader could do?” We received quite a few replies, but one of the more interesting ones came from a person who said they’d like to have apps like Flipboard, Zite and Pulse on their E Ink device. I found that interesting because those are the apps (along with News360) I use almost every day on my tablet. If there were Nook E Ink versions, that 10:1 ratio noted earlier would probably become 50:1 as there would be less reason for me to switch to my tablet for reading.

So why aren’t there apps like this on E Ink devices? One reason is tied to E Ink’s capabilities. Apps like Flipboard, Zite, et al, offer nice graphics and even a bit of animation. E Ink is limited to grayscale and no animation, of course. So why not create those apps without the animation and just show the images in black and white? That leads to reason No. 2: Amazon, B&N and the other E Ink device vendors aren’t encouraging third-party app development. That’s probably because they want those devices to have the highest walled gardens of all, which is a shame and a loss for consumers.

Is it too late for these vendors to reconsider and encourage third-party app development? Maybe. After all, the momentum has already swung toward tablets and away from E Ink readers. Nevertheless, as long as tablets weigh more than E Ink readers, their displays aren’t as easy on the eyes and they don’t offer significantly longer battery life, I’ll remain a two-device reading consumer. I suspect I’m not alone, so I hope an E Ink app ecosystem takes root at some point.

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog (“Why Are Apps Only on Tablets?“). This version has been lightly edited.

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  • http://twitter.com/toddhdow Todd Dow

    I’d love to see integration with Instapaper. I currently get an Instapaper digest of 20 or 50 articles sent to my Kindle on a regular basis. It would be better to have each article synced as a separate doc on my Kindle so that I can chip away at them a doc at a time (and interact, socialize, etc. my content direct from my Kindle as well).

  • Tom Semple

    There are dozens of apps (‘Active Content’) for Kindle eink devices (K3 and up). Chess, Checkers, Sudoku, word games, weather, MahJong, Scrabble, Battleship, notepad, etc. Amazon has a developers program and a Java SDK for it. There are probably only around a hundred of these apps, but they seem relatively popular and new ones are continually added. However compared to their iOS/Android cousins, they are quite pedestrian and stripped down. The Weather Channel app is the only one I know of that uses wireless (wifi only, even if Kindle has 3G). There are also a few web sites with games or services optimized for the Kindle browser. It might make sense to have an RSS reader app or something of that nature, but nobody’s done one so far; the SDK is probably too limiting to make it worth the effort.

    Nook Simple Touch and Sony PRS-T1 both run on Android, and there are any number of YouTube demos of rooted devices running Angry Birds, Kindle for Android and so on. But while the original Nook did have some apps for it, B&N chose not to continue with this course, probably because it would divert scarce development resources to create an SDK and marketplace.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SX2NUZYNRJ5ZKCFRMEELNIOXL4 Pickin Grinnin

    All I want is color e-ink.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SX2NUZYNRJ5ZKCFRMEELNIOXL4 Pickin Grinnin

    I would also love to be able to respond on here without having to login to my Facebook, Twitter, etc. account. Disqus is the devil’s work.

  • http://radar.oreilly.com/ Mac Slocum

    @Pickin Grinnin: We’re using a flavor of Disqus that lets you post as a guest. You can do that by adding your comment to the comment field and then clicking the Post As button. “Guest” is the first option.

    Hope that helps!

  • jwikert

    Tom, you’re absolutely right that Amazon offers a number of apps for their eInk devices. Have you noticed that they all seem to be games though? I can’t find a single one that solves the content issue I focused on in this article. Games are nice but I want content apps.

    Todd, yes, Instapaper would be a terrific app for an eInk device. Let’s hope it shows up at some point.