Amazon launches Kindle Cloud Reader, sidestepping Apple's subscription rules

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If you can’t beat the rules, go around ‘em. That seems to be the idea behind Amazon’s new Web-based Kindle Cloud Reader, a transparent attempt to give iPad readers direct access to both their Kindle books and the Amazon bookstore without cutting Apple a 30-percent slice of the pie.

Amazon’s launch of the iPad-optimized Web service is the latest blow in a battle that has been brewing since February, when Apple announced it would take a 30 percent cut of sales made through in-app purchases of books, periodicals, music, and movies—and that sellers couldn’t use their websites to offer better deals than available through the apps. Cupertino later relaxed its requirements a bit, but still mandated that Amazon and other ebook app vendors scrub their apps of direct links to their online stores. And the Financial Times showed a new way forward in June by offering one of the first subscription-based iPad-optimized websites.

Amazon is following the Financial Times model with the Kindle Cloud Reader; while its new site is also compatible with the Chrome and Safari desktop browsers, the site is clearly aimed at iPad Safari users. (An iPhone version isn’t available yet.) When you log into your Amazon account from within the app for the first time, you’re shown your entire library of ebooks—and prompted to add the page to your iPad’s home screen. The Web app claims 50MB of storage space on your iPad, which in turn gives you the ability to store cloud-based books for offline reading.

The Web app comes with a number of downsides; it simply doesn’t offer as alluring a reading experience as the official iPad app. For one thing, there’s no access to periodicals: If you recently started subscribing to newspapers or magazines through Amazon, you’ll need to stick with the iPad app. The same goes for the ability to share book quotes via Facebook and Twitter. And there’s no highlighting or note-taking enabled—though you can see the highlights and notes you’ve made using Amazon’s other Kindle apps (or actual hardware Kindles). Even the page-turning is little bit uglier: Readers merely tap to change screens instead of “swiping” back-and-forth. If anything, the experience is closer to the desktop Kindle app than the iPad app.

The only clear advantage to the Web app, in fact, seems to be the easy access to Amazon’s store. The iPad-optimized store is beautifully designed, with a narrow-but-total focus on Kindle publications instead of the vast grab-bag of products and services available at Unless or until Amazon can match the elegance of its new iPad-friendly ebook store with its cloud-based reading experience, though, the Web app won’t become a true page-turner.

Amazon does promise improvements are coming. “We’ll continue to expand the feature set—stay tuned for more,” Kinley Campbell, an Amazon spokesperson, told Macworld via email.

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