Lamentations for the Kindle: Amazon, please innovate!

Much of Microsoft’s early success was based on the ability to incorporate and market innovations of others (PC DOS from Seattle Computer Products, a computer mouse from Xerox, a window-based GUI from Apple). In a similar vein, Amazon’s success with the Kindle platform is due not in small part to innovations of a French company, Mobipocket SA. Mobipocket was founded in 2000 to work on a format and software for ebooks. Mobipocket created a robust format that supported (admittedly) simple formatting but had under its hood an intelligent core: almost instant search capability, complex dictionary/index support, JavaScript support (think “interactive content”), etc. Moreover, Mobipocket’s software was available for a large number of platforms and devices: Symbian, Windows Mobile, Palm OS, webOS, Java ME, BlackBerry, Psion, iLiad, and … finally Kindle). It even announced future support for iOS. Its ebook distribution platform was similarly impressive.

Amazon acquired Mobipocket in 2005, added significant resources, and released the first Kindle in 2007. The first Kindle inherited from Mobipocket support for most of its format, including fast search capability, dictionary/index and Unicode (but no JavaScript). All subsequent Kindle generations until Kindle Fire had the same great features, which made the Kindle platform stand out from the rest, at least for a Bible and Christian publisher such as OSNOVA. These features allowed for instant navigation to any verse in the Bible, transparent and intelligent organization of complex works, instant searches of large volumes of pre-indexed text.

Amazon has recently released the fourth generation Kindles and developed a new ebook format. Kindle Fire is the first Kindle to offer support to the newly announced KF8 format, which is designed by Amazon to compete with the latest epub format in the formatting (read, eye-candy) department. Unfortunately, Kindle Fire has dropped support for many of the features that made the Kindle platform great (see our earlier post) such as instant search and dictionary/index support. Moreover, the new KF8 format has no support for dictionaries/indices!

When late last year I asked Amazon whether the new format will include this awesome feature, Amazon’s response* was, “Unfortunately, we’re unable to provide details on the capabilities of the KF8 until it’s released for KDP. However, we will continue to sell books that use Mobi’s index/dictionary functionality.” I still had hopes until the official announcement of the KF8 format, which was made yesterday, December 11. Buried deep in one of the documents released along with the announcement was the statement that “dictionary is only supported in Mobi7 format”, which means that the brand new KF8 will have no such support. Kindle Fire is the first Kindle to support KF8 (and not to support dictionaries/indices).

On November 2, 2011, Amazon announced that they were shutting down the last remains of Mobipocket platform. My fear is that in a short period of time when KF8 support is widespread, even the vestiges of great features that Mobipocket format offered will be removed and discarded by Amazon. If that happens, Kindle will be just a good device (when compared to its epub brethren) with no outstanding qualities.

I can only join Mobipocket’s former CEO, Martin Görner, who said in a recent blog comment, “There are indeed pieces of the Mobi format that I still miss on Kindle like Javascript support or more importantly indices and search functionalities.”

* Correspondence from Amazon dated December 27, 2011

Posts on the same topic from others:

Are We Witnessing the Slow, Agonizing Death of Mobipocket?

Amazon Now Taking One More Step to Kill Mobipocket 

RIP: Mobipocket 2000-2011

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