Amazon has announced an update to the Kindle file format integrating many HTML5 tags and CSS attributes. Many expected a concession by Amazon in the form of an EPUB-compatible upgrade, and this comes as a slight surprise — but it’s a natural evolution of the format, really, and of course everyone is already familiar with the toolset.
In a way this makes Kindle formatted books nothing more than extremely long webpages, but that’s really a matter of perspective. Flexible layouts and well-known rules for handling text, fonts, images, and so on mean that the file format is adaptable to many devices, zoom levels, resolutions, and so on.
The full list of new tags and such can be found here; there’s no video or audio tag, tellingly, but apart from that it seems a fairly normal collection of HTML elements and CSS stuff.
It’s probably a good thing that they’re leaving behind the venerable MOBI format, and their choice upon moving away from it was either to join the enemy ranks (EPUB), build a new format from scratch (tedious), or embrace a buzzword that just happens to fill most of the requirements of an ebook file format. Add a few hooks for Kindle-specific functions, change the extension, and you’ve got yourself a versatile new format for rich bookmaking.
This naturally occurs after the release of the Fire, which will benefit more than any other e-reader from this decision. Children’s books, comics, and textbooks seem to be the most obvious applications.
As for the e-ink devices, Amazon says that in the next few months “our latest generation Kindle e-ink devices” will have access to the format as well. I think that leaves out everything up until the latest batch. But their publishing tool will apparently make a copy (if possible) that will work on the older devices, presumably in the old format and lacking any HTML5-powered bells and whistles. Tablet and PC Kindle clients (like their Cloud Reader) will be able to take full advantage.