Kindle catches the app store bug

The app store, once the domain of phones, and now TVs and set-top boxes, will come to Amazon’s Kindle e-readers later this year.

Amazon announced that the Kindle Development Kit will be available to software developers later this month. It’ll allow them to create all sorts of apps for the e-reader, from weather pages to interactive cookbooks to word games and puzzles. EA Mobile has already said it will bring games to the Kindle, and developer Handmark says it will release active Zagat restaurant guides.

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Developers can give the apps away to customers, or can sell them for a one-time charge or monthly subscription. Existing Kindles will be issued an update to include the app store, though a date hasn’t been announced.

It’s easy to see the move as a challenge to Apple’s impending tablet. Apple chief executive officer Steve Jobs once criticized e-readers, telling the New York Times in September that while dedicated devices will always have a place, “the general-purpose devices will win the day. Because I think people just probably aren’t willing to pay for a dedicated device.”

So far, that hasn’t been true for the Kindle. Though Amazon won’t release actual sales numbers, the company claimed that Kindles were the best-selling product on its Web site during the 2009 holiday season. Still, if I were Amazon, I’d be worried that a device dedicated solely to reading books might not be enough to compete with multi-purpose tablets. The inclusion of an app store makes sense in that regard, and it also gives Amazon one more advantage over other e-readers hitting the market, including Barnes & Noble’s Nook. Spring Design’s Alex and a series of Asus e-readers.

If you’re wondering what won’t be allowed in the Kindle’s app store, so far VoIP applications, offensive material, collection of user data and use of Amazon or Kindle brands are off-limits.