Will developers turn the page to writing Kindle apps?

With Apple poised to finally confirm its long-rumored tablet device on Wednesday, Amazon.com is going on the offensive--as Apple muscles in on its Kindle ereader territory, the online retail giant is targeting the App Store in kind, releasing a software development kit offering coders the means to build and upload "active content" for the Kindle platform. According to Amazon, the Kindle Development Kit will include access to programming interfaces, tools and documentation for both the 6-inch Kindle and 9.7-inch Kindle DX, enabling creation of content that leverages Kindle hallmarks like seamless and invisible 3G wireless delivery, high-resolution electronic paper display and battery life extending as long as seven days with wireless activated. Amazon will kick off a Kindle Development Kit beta trial next month (details here), and adds that firms including Handmark, EA Mobile and Sonic Boom are already creating content for the platform.

The challenge facing Amazon is the same one looming in front of all of Apple's rivals: How to lure developers away from the iPhone, especially with the promise of the Apple tablet on the horizon. Amazon does not report Kindle sales totals, although analysts project the number sold at between 1.5 million and 2 million--by contrast, Apple announced Monday that it sold 8.7 million iPhones and 21 million iPods in Q1 2010 alone. Jeff Smith, CEO of Smule--the startup behind App Store bestsellers including I Am T-Pain and Ocarina--tells BusinessWeek that while it might cost 10 percent of the original development outlay of an iPhone app to fashion a new version for the tablet, it would probably cost as much as another 70 percent to rewrite the software for the Kindle. Developing for Amazon would essentially mean "rethinking how I design applications from the start," Smith adds.

But the biggest obstacle facing Amazon could be the quirks inherent in the Kindle concept. As the Kindle Development Kit homepage points out, Kindles are not smartphones: Users don't pay a monthly wireless fee or sign up for an annual service contract. Which means Kindle applications must be priced to cover the associated costs of downloads and ongoing usage--according to Amazon, that translates to content delivery fees of 15 cents per megabyte. (Applications smaller than 1MB that use less than 100KB per user per month may be offered free to consumers--Amazon will cover any wireless costs associated with delivery and maintenance.) On top of that, Kindle applications will face an upper size limit of 100MB; apps larger than 10MB will not be delivered over-the-air, meaning consumers must instead download content from the Kindle Store to a computer and transfer the app to their Kindle via USB. For niche developers and content providers like educational software designers and comic book publishers, the chance to reach the core Kindle demographic could be a game-changer, but most programmers may have to change up too much of their own game to make the opportunity worth pursuing. -Jason