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January 20 2012

Kindle Fire: Three pros, five cons

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert's Publishing 2020 Blog ("Kindle Fire Lessons Learned"). It's republished with permission.

I don't regret spending the $200 I paid Amazon for my Kindle Fire. I tried it out and decided it wasn't for me, so I gave it to my daughter instead. Even though I no longer use the Fire I wanted to share the things I learned about the device and myself over the past several weeks. Let's start off with the good side of things.

Kindle Fire pros

Kindle FireForm factor — I prefer the Fire's size to the iPad's. It's nice being able to wrap your hand around the entire device and the lighter weight is a big plus for the Fire. Of course, it's the same form factor as RIM's PlayBook, and given how poorly that device has performed it's clear you need more than just a great form factor.

Meets the needs of typical consumer — The Fire wasn't for me but my daughter really likes it. That's why you see so many good and bad reviews of it. Consumers who want a cheap tablet are OK without all the bells and whistles of the iPad, for example. Early adopters, or those who want to push the technology to the limit, are disappointed though. More on the early adopter in a moment ...

Connection to Amazon content — There's no question Amazon is using the razors and blades economic model here and the Fire is clearly the razor they're willing to sell at little to no profit. Connectivity to Amazon's ebooks, video and audio content is second to none with the Fire. And tying in the Prime membership program will only lead to more Amazon products being sold.

That's it as far as pluses go. Now let's talk about the minuses.

Kindle Fire cons

Connection to Amazon content — As easy as it is for Fire users to access Amazon content it's just that difficult to access anyone else's. If there's one thing I've learned from the Fire it's that my next tablet will not be locked in to one provider's content. That probably means I won't be buying from the typical content providers, of course. I don't mind paying more for that capability, by the way. So if Samsung comes up with a terrific tablet that meets all my needs, and it's $100 or so more than the Fire, I'm in.

Awful for the early adopter/tinkerer — As noted above, the Fire is pretty good for the typical consumer. But if you're buying it to root and open it up you'll be disappointed. Even if you go through the rooting process you'll quickly find some of the apps in the Android Market simply won't run on it (e.g., NHL Gamecenter App, the swipe keyboard, etc.) And if you do root it, watch out for those unsolicited auto-updates.

Auto updates — This one's ridiculous. How in the world can Amazon think that forcing OS updates on every Fire owner is the right thing to do? Amazon, take a page out of the Apple book and let your customers decide when and if they want the update. I couldn't help but feel the auto update was intended more to penalize rooters than to fix problems and offer more functionality. It also reminded me of the unfortunate "1984" debacle Amazon brought upon themselves a few years ago. Really stupid.

"Silk" browser — This has to be the biggest embarrassment of all for Amazon. Remember how excited Bezos was when he demo'd the Fire's lightning-fast browser at the press event last year? It turns out the browser isn't that fast after all. In fact, in my totally unscientific side-by-side testing, the Fire almost always loaded pages slower than both my iPad and my RIM PlayBook. Even with all these other issues I figured the Fire would offer a browsing experience that's second to none. The results were considerably weaker than promised. I'm disappointed that Amazon hasn't come out and admitted their failure here. It's remarkable that they still prominently feature the Silk browser on the Fire's product page. They seem to be in denial about it as they haven't even hinted it will be fixed in a future software update. As much as I criticize Apple, this is something Steve Jobs never would have let happen.

Missing a "killer" app — This is the reason why I had to keep my iPad handy throughout my Fire use and am stuck (for the time being) on iOS. Zite is my go-to app. I use it every single day. It's outstanding. It's a free app but I'd gladly pay as much as $10 or $15 for it, especially now that I'm totally addicted to it. There's no Android version of Zite ... yet. I can't even consider another Android tablet until Zite is available. Flipboard is a close second and it too doesn't exist in the Android world. Amazon should have invested some money with the developers of apps like Zite and Flipboard to make sure they were available when the Fire launched. Better yet, wouldn't it be nice if a Fire-specific app or two came out that made the device irresistible? I'd love to be talking about a Fire or Android app that's unbeatable but not available on iOS. I can't think of a single one.


I realize I'm a fairly unique user and that plenty of Fire owners are perfectly happy with their purchase. That's great, but I'd also love to see Amazon step up, act like the market leader they're trying to be and address these shortcomings.

I'm convinced that my next tablet will be an Android-based one. The only Android tablet I'll consider though is one that gives me access to all types of content, not just content from the company who sells the hardware. Heck, as closed as they are, even Apple lets you install e-reader apps from Amazon, B&N, etc. One of the reasons they can do that is they're confident they've got a terrific piece of hardware and you'll want to buy it over the competition. They also charge a premium for it. I've learned it's worth paying a premium, as long as it's not ridiculously high, for the ability to choose from multiple content providers.

So while my next tablet won't be the cheapest on the market, I won't make the same mistake twice and limit myself to one source of content for it.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012

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October 17 2011

Open Question: What needs to happen for tablets to replace laptops?

Open QuestionI've owned an iPad since you could own an iPad. I upgraded from iPad 1 to iPad 2 because the thinner form factor, faster response and Smart Cover were too hard to resist. So, I suppose you could say I'm a fan — both of the iPad itself and the overall tablet experience it provides.

But here's the thing: I now often carry a tablet and a laptop and a smartphone. The dream of one device to rule them all has morphed into a hazy vision of three devices that are all somehow necessary (tablet for browsing/consuming, laptop for real work, phone for on-the-go updates/camera — how did it come to this?).

Now, I know there are people out there who can bend a tablet to their will. I don't have that super power. "Inputting" on my tablet is an exercise in hunt-and-peck futility. More often than not I delay long email responses and other typing-intensive work until I'm stationed in front of a proper computer. This is why my tablet experience, in its current form, can never replace my laptop experience.

I bring all this up because participants in a recent back-channel email thread did something really interesting: They ignored the question of where tablets fit in now and instead examined the specific features they would need before tablets could replace their laptops. The focus was shifted from how tablets currently work to how they should work.

Here's a few tablet wish lists from the email thread (republished with permission; names withheld).

Participant 1:

I want a laptop with a removable screen that acts like a tablet — in other words, a dockable tablet. I want it to have great voice recognition. I want it to have Swype, so I can input text without having to "poke type" at a virtual keyboard with fingers or thumbs — and so I can input text one-handed quickly and easily. I want it to have great battery life in tablet mode, augmented by a second battery in the dock. I also want it to have a stylus, but the stylus should slide into the tablet, like my old Windows phone (v 6.5), so it doesn't get lost easily.

The dock would have a touchpad, the large battery as mentioned earlier, and would have extra USB ports so I can hook up other peripherals. The dock should obviously have a built-in keyboard and a reasonably large hard drive (250 GB or so). The total weight should not be much greater than existing lightweight laptops (a little heavier because of the extra battery). The tablet should be chargeable from the dock battery, so that if I run out of tablet power and place it in the dock, the tablet recharges from the dock battery. I want it to have a decent rear-facing camera (I don't care much about a front-facing one), Wi-Fi, GPS, NFC, Bluetooth, ambient light sensor, accelerometer, speakers, and (optionally) 4G cell radio capability.

Participant 2:

I find it hard to fault my Lenovo S12 — 3 pounds, 6 hrs of battery, great keyboard, 250 GB hard drive (no CD drive), HDMI output, 3 USB ports, Wi-Fi, ethernet, Windows 7, Office 2010. It makes tablets seem like Vespas (not to denigrate Vespas — just being realistic).

I've tried to take my iPad to meetings, and I've seen people with that toy keyboard Apple offered initially (though I like the looks of some of the new case/keyboard combos), and I've seen people do great presentations with an iPad. But input is the barrier. I've never had an opportunity to use Swype, but it's an intriguing solution. Voice recognition also seems plausible if you're not in a public setting.

I think what I really want at this point is a 1-pound S12. Lenovo has an interesting Android tablet, but it all comes back to the keyboard and input, doesn't it? If Windows 8 can deliver both the traditional desktop experience and a tablet experience that builds on WinPhone7, that gets closer to what I want. If I can get to three screens (TV-Tablet-Phone) instead of a dozen or whatever it is, that would be good.

Your take?

As you can see, people on the thread indulged their specificity. I'd like to invite Radar readers to do the same thing by addressing these open questions:

  • Do you use multiple devices throughout the day? If so, which ones?
  • How about when you travel — which devices do you pack?
  • Have you tried going tablet-only? What worked? What didn't?
  • And finally: What improvements do you need to see before you go tablet-only?

Please weigh in through the comments or Google+.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012

Related:

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