Kindle Doesn't Light My Fire
While it isn't the be-all-and-end-all of tablets, the Fire is cheap. That $200 price tag is going to put a lot of Fires in people’s hands, and tablets really are addictive.
Well, I've had my Kindle Fire for about a week, and it has not turned out to be the life-changing experience I hoped it would be. It's a solid enough device and I do prefer 7-inch models over the 10-inch (e.g. iPad size) tablets, but the Fire seems more like an appliance to buy stuff from Amazon than a real "tablet". The biggest deficiency is that even though it runs a version of the Android operating system, you can’t get apps from the Android Market without "rooting" the device, in essence unlocking the Amazon handcuffs. There are instructions for doing this available online, but I'm holding off from that science project at least for the moment.
In a post on Gizmodo, Brent Rose makes a convincing argument that you should leave the Fire as is unless 1) you're not worried about "bricking", and 2) you're ready to take on an ongoing maintenance chore. Left as it is, you will get Amazon's regular updates and an experience that while constraining is fairly smooth--though not quite "iPad smooth".
The Fire's power-on screen shows a selection of old media photographs of things like pencils, cassette tapes, and the like and when you move the slide button you're greeted with a stack of icons for the last bunch of documents or applications you had open. Along the top there are buttons for "Newsstand", "Books" (as you might expect from Amazon), "Music", "Video", "Docs", "Apps", and "Web". There is a selection of free media with each button, and a button pointing to "Store".
Copying stuff to the Fire is fairly simple; you just connect the USB cable to your PC and the Kindle appears as an icon on the PC’s screen. You click on the icon and it displays folders for "Books", "Music", "Videos" and the like. It did pretty well with music, but the video and the pictures I transferred disappeared so completely, the search function on the Fire couldn't even find them!
The things that are missing in the Fire I don't really miss that much. As I wrote in my review of the announcement, the Fire has no camera and no microphone--the speakers aren't too hot either, but the video is crisp. However, I don't think I've ever turned on the camera in either my PlayBook or iPad 2, unless I did it by accident. As I see it, if I want to take a picture, I don't want to be waving this tablet thing around; I'll just grab my phone, or more likely, a real camera. The Fire doesn't have a 3G or 4G cellular capability either, but I wasn't planning to dish out any more dough to my mobile operator anyway.
The app story is my biggest complaint. Amazon has essentially built yet another "walled garden", only this time all of the nice flowers are all on the other side of the wall! I guess I can't complain too much, as Citi analyst Mark Mahaney figures Amazon is losing $15 to $20 on every Fire they sell; sounds like that business plan that goes, "We'll lose a little on each one we sell, but we'll make it up on volume". Clearly the plan is, they hope to make it up on increased sales of things those users will buy from Amazon. That "give 'em the razor and sell 'em the blades strategy" hasn't worked with me as yet, but it is an interesting strategy and not unlike how mobile operators work. The mobile operators give you a subsidized smartphone, and pay for it with a service plan that hooks you into a 2-year contract. Amazon is doing much the same thing with the Fire and their walled garden, however without the payback assurance of the cellular plans.
This might be a necessary development in the Android universe, particularly given the recent burst of malware. Juniper Networks reported that the number of Android malware samples had increased by 472% since July 2011, with the bulk of that occurring in September and October. While some contend those numbers are a bit of an exaggeration, it's still enough to get your attention. Of course, Apple got some egg on their face on the security front lately as well. With the ease-of-use element, and some hope that Amazon will actually provide a quality and security check on the apps they offer, it could be a benefit to users--at least the ones who don't want the headaches and are willing to live with the constraints.
So while it isn't the be-all-and-end-all of tablets, the Fire is cheap. That $200 price tag is going to put a lot of Fires in people’s hands, and tablets really are addictive. With its inherent limitations, the Fire will clearly be a "content consumption" device, but it could very well spur some users to sell the Fire on eBay and get themselves something that delivers the whole tablet experience. In the end, I think my wife is going to steal the Fire and use it for reading books; my son has already assumed effective ownership of the iPad 2. Guess I'm back to the trusty PlayBook.