Will Amazon open the Kindle to developers?

If Amazon allowed third-party developers to make applications for the Kindle, it could turn a device with a single purpose into something much more flexible.


We're heading into the holiday buying season, which means the introduction of new gadgets and the media's annual anointment of the season's hottest tech toy. Plenty of pundits think electronic book readers will sell briskly this year, which got us thinking: Will Amazon update its Kindle e-book reader in time for the holidays?

An Amazon spokesman, Drew Herdener, wouldn't comment on this. But according to a few analysts and Amazon watchers who are often prescient on these things, it seems the answer is probably not. This will be the first holiday season for both the second-generation Kindle and the large-screen Kindle DX, and the people monitoring Amazon's plans say that conceivable improvements--smaller Kindles, flexible Kindles, Kindles with touch screens or even color screens--are probably not coming until at least next year.

What Amazon could do, however, is release a software development kit and open up the Kindle to third-party applications, turning a device with a single purpose--reading--into something that is conceivably much more flexible.

Before you get visions of playing shoot-'em-ups on the Kindle, recall that e-readers have serious limitations, with grayscale displays that refresh painfully slowly. And Amazon subsidizes the cost of downloading books over Sprint's 3G wireless network, so wireless-guzzling applications might break that model (although Amazon could simply ask developers to pay their own bandwidth costs.)

"My general thought is that the limitations of e-ink make this a limited device for applications," said Evan Schnittman, vice president at Oxford University Press. "It's for reading, not interactivity. The refresh rate alone would kill anything remotely fun or cool."

But given those limitations, there are still some interesting possibilities. Companies like Facebook or Goodreads could add social features to the Kindle; game developers like Zynga could create nongraphics-intensive games like poker or chess for the device. There could also be educational games, or programs that take advantage of that rarely used keyboard and Kindle's "experimental" Web browser.

Amazon might also interest businesses in developing their own Kindle apps--sales management tools or health records software--and in that way compete head to head with the upcoming business-focused Plastic Logic reader.

If Amazon opened up, "all of a sudden you've gone from a device that is great for reading books and maybe newspapers and magazines to something that has a real utility for business people and also for consumers," said Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester Research, which recently began surveying consumers about what other types of content they would like to see on e-readers.

So, with all that in mind, what kinds of applications would you like to see made available for the Kindle? Leave your suggestions below. (Click here to leave comments on original NYT post.)

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