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It’s an exciting time for lovers of digital books. Last week, Amazon announced plans to release a software development kit for the Kindle, so that other companies can develop and sell applications for the e-reader. Tomorrow, Apple is expected to announce a tablet device that could be a significant threat to the Kindle’s position as the leading e-reader.

Susan Kevorkian, program director for mobile media and entertainment at the research firm IDC, says Amazon’s timing, just in advance of the Apple announcement, isn’t pure coincidence. “Apps for the Kindle will enable users to leverage its persistent connectivity to expand Kindle’s functionality beyond digital book and periodical reading,” she says.

But with a payment scheme that puts developers on the hook for some wireless download costs and a challenging user interface, the Kindle might not enjoy the wide variety of apps already available for the iPhone.

Amazon says applications of all sorts should be available on the Kindle store later this year. The development software is still being tested and revised. But a handful of software developers, including game maker Sonic Boom of New York, were given an early version of the development kit a few months ago so they could start working on products. Amazon says a larger group of testers will get ahold of the software next month.

Josh Grant, Sonic Boom’s chief operating officer, says the company is already working on developing a few simple games for the Kindle, including card games, puzzles, and word games. These will be ready when the Kindle application store launches. “We’ll see how those do and get some market data” before pursuing a few more innovative ideas, Grant says.

Sonic Boom also makes games for a wide variety of cell phones, including the iPhone. Grant says that Amazon seems to recognize the “challenge for content providers who work with Apple ecosystem.” The problem, he says, is getting an application recognized among 120 million others. Amazon’s payment scheme should cut back on the number of developers, because it makes them responsible for paying $0.15/megabyte for downloads. Hobbyists likely won’t submit programs to the Kindle store due to the potential costs involved, which will make it easier for professional developers like Sonic Boom to garner customers’ attention.

Another mobile software developer, Handmark Studios, is already working on a version of its Zagat To Go restaurant locator software for the Kindle. Cassidy Lackey, vice president of Handmark, says Amazon’s pricing scheme also makes a difference in terms of development. “You don’t really have to pay as much attention to network usage on a device like the iPhone. For the Kindle, you don’t want to be downloading a whole bunch of great big images,” Lackey says. The developer wouldn’t want to pay for all that downloaded content, and the Kindle’s black-and-white E-Ink screen isn’t ideal for image display.

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Credit: Amazon

Tagged: Computing, Business, software, Amazon,, Kindle, applications, e-reader, Amazon Kindle, development kit

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