Kindle Cloud ReaderAn article in ArsTechnica takes issue with the current app-centric mobile ecosystems,and argues for more focus on web apps. Larry Seltzer protests about “platform lock-in and the space the apps take up on the device. Updating apps is a pain that users often ignore, leaving broken or vulnerable versions in use long after they’ve been allegedly patched. Apps are also a lot of work for developers—it’s not easy to write native apps to run on both Android and iOS, never mind considering Windows Phone and BlackBerry.” But is this really a problem? And how would the solution look for ereaders?

Seltzer points to the impetus in the HTML5 standard, “backed strongly by Google and Mozilla. . . for websites to be able to do anything that native apps can.” This way, you have “nothing to install and automatic updates. Because of this, Web apps take up next to no persistent storage, leaving more room for music, videos, other persistent data and cache.”

Leave aside for now the online/offline problem. Google in any case has been working hard at making its Chrome OS a more capable offline OS. But that points up exactly why, as Seltzer complains, “Apple has been slow to adopt the standards that make a powerful mobile Web possible.” Google owns so much of the web-based space already, through Chrome, the Chrome OS, the Google Docs suite of online apps, etc. Certainly you can see why Apple would rather keep developers penned within its revenue-rich walled garden.

For the major ebook players, though, I could see web-based platforms working pretty well. Amazon already has a perfectly workable Kindle Cloud Reader for web-based use. It may lack a bit of the functionality of the full Kindle apps, but since when have those been Amazon’s strong suit anyway, compared to the Kindle Store and Amazon’s back end? DRM management, policing of libraries, marketing-focused data crunching, and Amazon’s other more intrusive policies might even be easier this way. Google, meanwhile, has a web-based approach in play, literally, in the shape of Google Play Books, plus a browser-based OS already tried and tested for ereading in the shape of Chrome OS, with a slew of ereader apps already rolled out for it – Readium, dotEPUB, Cloud ePub Reader with Drive, etc. Third party ereader developers, meanwhile, shouldn’t have much problem coding in HTML5.

Perhaps not Apple’s ideal future. But then with iBooks and Safari, they should be able to pull something together too. Ebook readers overall should have little to fear. After all, any halfway decent browser ought to be able to render ebook text, online or off.




  1. “Amazon already has a perfectly workable Kindle Cloud Reader for web-based use”

    But will it work with Kindle ebooks not bought from Amazon? No? then it’s not so workable.

    “Third party ereader developers, meanwhile, shouldn’t have much problem coding in HTML5.”

    And yet everyone keeps developing mobile ebook apps rather than web apps. Something tells me that there are technical issues which you are glossing over blithely.

  2. People forget that for about a year, the original iPhone used web apps but not third-party real ones. I actually tried a few of them some years ago and was disappointed. Having to be online to use them is a major failing.

    I’d be more interested in giving epub some of the same complex formatting abilities of webpages but with a built-in ereader.

  3. There was an incredible cloud based eReader called Ibis Reader by Threepress Publishing. It was an experimental work in progress and quite ahead of its time. Then, O’Reilly bought Threepress and Ibis Reader stopped developing and eventually disappeared. What Ibis Reader showed was that HTML 5 was perfectly suitable for an excellent eReader.
    The typical argument offered in favor of app-based eBooks is that they are more capable regarding multi-media. This rings hollow when you explore what can be done in HTML 5.
    The real reasons for favoring eBook apps over web-based eBooks go unmentioned so we have to guess.

  4. Given M. W. Perry’s comment, I should have mentioned that HTML 5 has a feature called “local storage” which empowered Ibis Reader to keep entire eBooks on the mobile device so as to enable offline reading. Place holding was updated as soon as a network connection became available.

  5. Yes, that is actually a good thing to use Web based apps, as you can see Google Drive has been there for a long time and it is very user-friendly. I heard about HTML5 a lot but it seems that many developers has reservation on this. Anyway, this is an interesting article, thanks for sharing with us.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail