August 11, 2011, 11:16 AM — Amazon's new Kindle Cloud Reader, announced Wednesday and available now at read.amazon.com, is a Web-based interface to Amazon's Kindle ebook store, complete with the ability to read books within a web browser. Using HTML5 and related technologies, Kindle Cloud Reader isn't just for browsing books when you've got an Internet connection: It can even store books on your device for offline reading.
I've been a Kindle customer for a couple of years and have a lot of experience with using physical Kindle hardware as well as the Kindle apps for iPhone and iPad; here's a hands-on look at where the new HTML-based Kindle Cloud Reader shines and where it lags behind the Kindle iPad app.
Coverage of the Kindle Cloud Reader has largely focused on how it behaves on the iPad--and with good reason. But it's important not to miss the fact that Kindle Cloud Reader works on Safari and Chrome, too. That means you can read Kindle books on pretty much any Mac or PC. (Kindle Cloud Reader doesn't work on the iPhone.)
That's great, but if you're going to do a lot of reading on your Mac, you're probably better off downloading the free Kindle for Mac app, since it offers many more text and formatting options. On a desktop browser, the Kindle Cloud Reader lets you choose from five different margin widths and five different font sizes; the native Mac app offers 12 different font sizes and something like 20 different margin widths.
Still, Kindle Cloud Reader seems like a great option for people who are using a shared computer, perhaps at a school computer lab, since it gives you access to all your Kindle books without having to install any software.
Installing the web app
It's hard not to view the Kindle Cloud Reader as Amazon's attempt to find a way onto the iPad in a way that bypasses Apple's restrictions on app development. Recently Amazon's Kindle app was updated to remove a link to the Kindle Store because Apple mandated it; the only financial transactions allowed within iOS apps must use Apple's purchase system, which Amazon can't use due to the financial model of the ebook business.
As Steve Jobs himself has said on many occasions, Apple offers two pathways for developers to put content on the iOS--via the curated App Store experience and via the completely open world of HTML5-based web apps. With the release of the Kindle Cloud Reader, Amazon is now doing both.