Monday, 5 December 2011

Did the Kindle Fire Light my Fire?

Back in early October, when Amazon announced they were throwing their hat into the tablet race, I rushed to and booked my Kindle Fire, with the anticipation that this was going to be one tablet that could actually stand up to Apple in the tablet business.  In fact, in my mind, ever since Jeff Bezos announced the launch of the Kindle Fire, I've had a song stuck in my head that I thought would define the tablet.  The song is from The Doors and is called "Light My Fire."

Did I expect Amazon to overtake Apple?  No.  I did though think that Amazon had what it took to worry Apple because they had they had the following things going for them:
  • A rich media library (books, music, movies from most leading publishers)
  • An App Store (we all need our dose of Angry Birds)
  • A proven operating system (the Kindle Fire runs on Android, though Amazon have heavily customized the skin)
  • A track record with hardware (Amazon did of course champion the e-reader category with their Kindle readers)
  • A Cloud of their own (apart from Amazon's Cloud storage solution)
  • Infrastructure (Amazon has got their own hosting service and they manage the hosting requirements for many major websites)
Most of these points were what most tablet manufacturers that have tried to compete with Apple lacked and I was of the opinion that if someone were to rock the boat, it would be Amazon for just these reasons.

The Verdict?

I've been lost honestly since I got my Kindle Fire in the mail a few weeks ago.  Did I love it or did I hate it?  I wanted to really like it because I've had a Kindle e-reader for several months now and it's made reading so much more enjoyable for me.  There was though, something missing for me.  I couldn't quite put my finger on it and even though the Kindle Fire will sell well, I wasn't quite sure how to describe my feelings about it.  

A lot of that changed though when I saw an article that appeared in All Things D over the weekend and a headline that read "Kindle Fire, the netbook of the tablet market?"  It was as if the author has found the words I was looking for as this seems to me to be exactly where the Kindle Fire should be positioned.

What I like about the Kindle Fire
  • The 7" form factor is nice if you want to read a book
  • The integration with your Amazon account and the fact that you've got access to most of your Amazon content that can be synchronized is a major plus, especially if you're halfway through reading a book on another device, you can start where you left off on the Kindle Fire
  • The touch screen technology is well implemented.  There were no major lags that I found and even the on-screen keyboard does the job.  Not all touch screen keyboards are friendly on the fingers but Amazon seems to have found the right one here.
  • The E-mail client seems pretty functional as well.  Though this is probably not what you associate the Kindle Fire with, the fact is a tablet vendor, Amazon had to cover most of their bases and they've done a decent job with this.
  • Web Browser - Amazon seems to have gotten a lot of grief for their browser but it worked fine for me.
  • Magazines - The one criticism of original Kindle was that it was terrible if you wanted to browse anything in colour or read a magazine on.  The Kindle Fire is way better than the original Kindle e-reader for downloading your latest edition of Men's Health, Cosmopolitan or whatever else you plan to read.

What I didn't Like about the Kindle Fire
  • Apps - even though Amazon boasts a moderately sized app-store, you can't buy or download (even free apps) on the Kindle Fire if you're based outside of the United States and don't have a US-registered credit card.  Amazon allows you to buy books from the Kindle bookstore but apps is a different story.  I wrote to Amazon saying I had a US address registered and was out of the country for the moment but they responded back that until I did have a credit card with a US-address, buying or downloading Apps wasn't a possibility.  The alternative Amazon gave was to use Android Market but this re-directed back to Amazon's App Store when I tried to access it.
  • Amazon Prime - Amazon's Prime service is supposed to be a money saver and when you buy the Kindle Fire, you get one month free access to Prime.  This means that you have access to a media library of TV shows and movies that you can start watching off your tablet without any charge.  While this is in theory great, in reality it's a problem if you live outside the United States.  I found myself unable to access to stream anything inspite of testing this on various WIFI networks.  
  • 7" Form Factor - While this was great for reading, it seems a bit small to me when watching a movie or TV show.  I much prefer the larger screen on the iPad.  Without the ability to wirelessly broadcast to a larger screen (like you can using AirPlay on the iPad 2), you may find it difficult to watch a movie on this device with a partner.
  • Backlit Screen -  Since my Kindle Fire has been largely restricted to reading books, I must say, I prefer the e-ink technology that's in the conventional Kindle e-readers over a backlit LCD display.  It is much easier on the eyes using e-ink and since I have the Kindle App on my iPad, I can probably read on that where needed instead of carrying around the Kindle Fire especially.

Concluding Thoughts...

As much as I wanted to like the Kindle Fire, I find myself torn away from it.  Had I lived in the United States or had Amazon worked out a solution for me to access content more readily outside the United States, I may have had a different opinion.  The fact is, the Kindle Fire doesn't aim to replace an iPad.  It doesn't need to because the fact of the matter is that not everyone needs an iPad.  Since the Kindle Fire is priced at half the price of most iPad's, it's meant to serve a segment of the population that's only really looking for a multimedia device.  I use my iPad for so many things but that's only I've got that sort of requirement.  I look around and I see friends or family members who don't have that sort of demand from a tablet and probably for them, when the adequate services are available in the region, the Kindle Fire may be the perfect solution.
Having said that, every time I do think of the Kindle Fire or use it, I still can't  get the voice of Jim Morrison out of my head and I still start humming to the tune of Light My Fire.