10 Kindle Apps for the Non-Existent Developer API

The Kindle should have a developer API. Ereaders could be revolutionizing the way people read, but right now they’re like paperbacks without the nice book smell.

I’ve heard a lot of people say, “the Kindle isn’t powerful enough for apps.” Poppycock. I’m not talking about using it to play Angry Birds, I’m talking about stuff a calculator could zoom though and would actually improve the reading experience.

So I present 10 apps that would be super-useful, require few resources, and (in some cases) increase profits:

  1. A “more content” button for magazines. If I’m reading a good magazine, I’d love to be able to get $10 more of content when I’m done. It’d be like giving a rat a lever that dispenses pellets. Yum, reading pellets.
  2. Renaming books. Apparently my workflow is defective, because I’ll often end up with 6 titles named “Imported PDF”, and there is no way to distinguish the one I want other than opening each PDF until I find it. If I could just rename the damn things…
  3. Support for other organizational schemes. Some people like tags (like whoever wrote Gmail, apparently) and everyone else likes hierarchical folders. I hate tags, I want things neatly tucked away in Sci Fi/Nebula Awards/Short Stories, not a franken-tag like “Sci Fi – Nebula Awards – Short Stories” (okay, it’s equivalent, but I hate tags).
  4. In technical books, how often is there a diagram that you keep flipping back and forth to for the next 10 to 15 pages? It would be nice to be able to “pin” it to the top of the screen as you read all of the text related to the diagram.
  5. Goodreads integration. When I finish a book, I want to rate it and have it automatically added to my “read” shelf in at Goodreads.
  6. Related to above: recommendations when I finish a book and rate it. If I just rated it five stars, show me other books people who loved this book liked. If I rated it one star, show me books people who hated this book liked.
  7. Related to above (again): list my Amazon recommendations inline with my list of books. This would be a money-spinner for them, I think, because Amazon’s recommendation engine is freakishly accurate (except when it gets thrown out of whack by holiday shopping). If I was looking at my Kindle and saw a list of books I really wanted to read a click away… well, I’d be much poorer.
  8. Make looking up words plugable to different search engines (Wikipedia, Urban Dictionary, D&D Compendium, etc). I was recently reading “Crime and Punishment” and came across the term “yellow ticket.” The built-in dictionary knew what “yellow” was, and it knew what “ticket” was, but that didn’t help a whole lot (answer: an id given to Russian prostitutes).
  9. Update support. Technical books especially can benefit from this: O’Reilly has been working to do multiple quick releases of ebooks so that they can be updated as the technology changes. Imagine if you’re opening up your well-thumbed copy of Scaling MongoDB and a dialog pops up: “Version 1.2 of Scaling MongoDB is available, covering changes in MongoDB 2.2. Would you like to download? [Yes/No]”. However, the support just isn’t there on the device side. (And a new version of Scaling MongoDB isn’t available yet, sorry.)
  10. Metrics. As an author, I would love to know how long it took someone to read a page, how many times they came back to it, and when they put the book down and went to do something else. Authors have never been able to get this level of feedback before and I think it would revolutionize writing. Basic user tracking would be amazing.

I’m not sure why Amazon doesn’t have a dev API, but I’d imagine that part of the reason is that most publishers would not like it. However, I think Amazon is big enough to crush them into submission. I hope that they will hurry up and do so.

If anyone has any ideas on how to get Amazon to implement a developer API, please comment!

P.S. I know about the API here, but that’s essentially for Angry-Birds-type apps. I’m looking for an API that lets you mess with the reader.

  • At first I couldn’t figure out some of these, such as “Goodreads integation,” but then I realized:  I use the Kindle App on my Android tablet, not a Kindle Device.  Upshot:  I already get a lot of these for free.  I can look things up on Wikipedia (or other sources) at will, and can go to other (web) applications like Goodreads.  I think what you’re really saying is that if they don’t add an API, the device will rot and become uninteresting relative to tablets with the Kindle App.

  • kristina1

    Yeah, I prefer the eInk and a lot of apps would only work/would work a lot better with reader integration, even on a tablet.

  • 2) When you use the Send to Kindle OS X app, it lets you set the metadata. but yeah, rename would be nice.

    3) I don’t think *most* people make deep hierarchies of books. Amazon isn’t making stuff for hardcore geeks like you. Personally, I have only two folders: “Reference” (dictionaries, etc.) and “Archive” (not like the built-in archive which is a list of owned but not downloaded books).

    5) You have ratings and read/unread statuses saved in your Amazon account… if they don’t have an API for that, we can use good old HTML parsing to make a sync script!

    10) But this might take the fun out of writing, replace the art of writing with the science of writing… sure that’ll be good for technical books, but how do we make sure this won’t be (ab)used for fiction?

  • kristina1

    2) Good to know.  I use Kindle It (Send to Kindle didn’t work very well on PDFs, I think).

    3) I think some people are natural-born filers 🙂

    5) AFAICT, they don’t have an API for anything.  Grrr.

    10) There would definitely be some privacy implications for this one, too.  I don’t agree about replacing art with science: I think it would be good for fiction authors.  It’s really hard to get feedback on what parts work and don’t work for a 400-page book!  Authors already try to write books that others will enjoy reading.  And maybe I’m a soul-less philistine, but if there’s a reducible formula for what humans like to read: cool!  I think that’s worth discovering (but I doubt there is one).

  • Asya Kamsky

    2. I e-mail myself PDFs all the time and they have correct titles.  I’ve also uploaded PDFs to my Kindle account and never had problems with titles.
    3. I hate tagging, and I love filing – I use collections which took too long to arrive.  I have Fiction, Non-Fiction, Work Docs and a few others (also technically sub-categories of Non-Fiction)
    6. I don’t know if I did something to configure this but I get this at the end of a book (“Before you go, would you like to rate this book/write a review?”)
    8. This is indication of a bad translation!   Good translation should preserve the meaning not the literal phrases!

  • kristina1

    2. I think it’s the browser-to-kindle plugin I use.
    6. Not good enough!
    8. Maybe… I dunno about something like that.  And there’s plenty of stuff I wouldn’t mind more context on.

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