For many Mac and iPad users, Amazon's Kindle Reader app (free) was the way to browse, purchase, and read electronic books. Then Apple had a change of heart about in-app purchases, basically demanding the standard App Store 30% take for any ebooks bought from within the Kindle Reader app. Amazon removed the purchase mechanism from the app, and it's still available on the App Store -- purchasing just takes one more step now. The launch of Amazon's Kindle Cloud Reader web app added a new wrinkle to the Apple / Kindle story. Let's take a quick look at the Kindle web app and see how it compares to the native app.
Since it's a web app, you really don't install anything. Pointing a browser on either Mac or iPad to http://read.amazon.com takes you to a login page.
Clicking the bright orange sign-in button displays a standard Amazon login screen; entering your credentials takes you to a rather bleak dark gray page displaying all of the books you've purchased. Before you start reading for the first time, Amazon wants to make sure that you have enough storage set aside to hold your books. That's right -- even though this is a web app, it downloads and stores books for offline reading. The Kindle model of buying a book, downloading it, and reading it anywhere continues.
The instructions show that you just click and hold (or tap and hold on an iPad) a book cover and then select "Download & Pin Book" to store the books locally. To read them when you're offline, you just tap on the "Downloaded" tab to see what's available.
The app looks the same whether you're on Mac (Safari and Chrome browsers are supported) or iPad. When click (or tap) and hold a book to move it offline, it automatically opens as well. As with the physical Kindle device, you see one page at a time. On either side of the page of text or graphics are arrows which, when clicked or tapped, move you to the next or previous page. At the bottom of the page is a progress bar showing how far along you are in the book, and at the top of the Mac Cloud Reader is a sparsely-populated toolbar. It's here where you can navigate to the cover or table of contents of a book, set a bookmark, change text size, or sync your reading progress to the cloud so that the next time you pick up reading -- regardless of what device you're on -- you start at the furthest read point.
The toolbar can be hidden on the iPad version of the web app, but I haven't yet figured out if that's possible on the Mac despite repeated prodding, poking, and clicking. I have found a bit of a bug in the iPad web app, which seems to like to crash repeatedly unless I get rid of the toolbar. Of course, this web app has only been out about a week, so there are likely to be a few bugs here and there.
From the toolbar while viewing your library of books, a click of the Kindle Store button transports you right to the online store (not available when you're offline, duh!). Purchases are easy, fast, and the content is quickly downloaded to your Mac or iPad.
The Kindle Cloud Reader works quite well for a first release, and as soon as Amazon brings it to the iPhone and iPod touch, the web app should replace the native app. There's really no compelling reason to continue using the native app that I can see, as the functionality has been beautifully re-created in the web app.
Have you made the switch to the Kindle Cloud Reader? What are your feelings about the app and how it works? Leave your comments below.