Tricia Duryee

Recent Posts by Tricia Duryee

Amazon Rolls Out More Apps for Kindle–Very Slowly

A year after launching its Kindle developer program, Amazon has added another third-party application to its black-and-white e-reader, the viability of which as a popular platform for outside developers remains to be seen.

Today’s addition, which is one of dozens of native apps available in the Kindle Store, is from a small Redmond, Wash.-based start-up, which has built Wordoku, a spin on Sudoku, that uses letters instead of numbers, and acts just like puzzle books found in airports, drugstores and bookstores. The application will cost $3.99, much like other games available in the store.

While it’s easy to dismiss the release as just another game for the Kindle, Roy Leban, CTO and founder of Puzzazz, sees it as much more and has ambitions to change the kind of applications that are built for the Kindle. In all seriousness, he says: “This is big. People will look back at this and really see this as a big change in puzzle delivery.” It’s being called the first in a series of ActiveBooks for Kindle.

The app is the first one that Puzzazz has built, and has taken priority over other more robust developer platforms, like the iPad or other smartphones. Puzzazz has five employees and is self-funded. Leban takes no salary and does consulting on the side to support his habit.

As a true puzzle enthusiast, who’s been published in the New York Times and has been a part of eight previous tech start-ups, Leban is easygoing and entertaining, and puts you on the spot by asking you riddles. In one such example, the clue is “Cape horn?,” 8 letters.” (See bottom of post for answer.)

He claims he can breathe new life into the Kindle games. Some of the other titles that have been produced in the beta program are Electronic Arts’ Sudoku and Solitaire, and there are also four additional titles that have been developed by Amazon, like Blackjack and Minesweeper. But clearly they are all repositioned games from other platforms.

Leban claims the approach is wrong. The Kindle is fundamentally not a gaming platform–it’s an e-reader.

To that end, he doesn’t call his new title a game–it’s a puzzle book. It works in the same way as other puzzle books. You can start one puzzle and not finish it. Then move on to the next page and come back later to take a stab at the first one again. Users can change the difficulty after buying the book that fits their needs; otherwise, the puzzles get slightly more difficult as you work your way through the 100-page book.

That’s unlike EA’s offerings, because you have to start a new game and can’t return to multiple puzzles once you’ve left the screen.

To achieve this, Leban says, the puzzles aren’t computer generated, but rather developed by humans with the help of some algorithms. While the differences may be perceived as slight, he says it’s a quality standard that a Saturday New York Times puzzle solver could appreciate compared with the easy puzzles found in drugstores.

But could his idea be even bigger than this?

That’s his hope.

Kindles, iPads and other emerging tablet devices are also expecting to deliver college textbooks, which today are much like scanned pages of a PDF. Why couldn’t a textbook be more interactive?

Students could solve math problems in the same paragraph that introduces the concept, and if their answers are incorrect, they could be instructed on where they went wrong. “The publishing world is so old-school and they don’t have imaginations. They need a kick and we think we serve as a kick.”

As for whether the Kindle will be a big platform for third-party apps, it’s hardly comparable to Apple’s developer community or approval process for the iPhone or iPad. According to the blog, it’s been announcing three new games for the past two months.

With no numbers on how well the Kindle is selling, or how well the games on the Kindle are selling, it’s unclear what Leban’s real opportunity is, other than getting the standard 70 percent cut of each puzzle book he sells. The Kindle developer program is in beta, which occasionally releases titles to the Kindle Store. A few games have been highlighted in the Kindle blog.

Riddle from above: First clue is “Cape horn?” (8 letters), additional clue is “Horn of South Africa,” third clue is “World Cup noisemaker.” Answer: Vuvuzela.