Sunday, May 6, 2012

First impressions of the Kindle Fire

The Kindle Fire has been the only Android tablet that I've been interested in buying. I picked up a refurb unit for the good price of $139 and have been using it all weekend. Compared to my iPad "3," its like driving a Subaru after riding in a Porshe--reliable, no-frills, and adequate, which is not a bad thing. It all depends on what you want--and expect--a tablet to do.

Basically, the Fire is a gateway drug to Amazon Prime. Included with the purchase of a Fire is "one free month" of Amazon Prime. You can get this free month anyway without a Kindle, but the main attraction of Prime for me--the ability to "borrow" Kindle books for free--is worth the price, and these borrowed Kindle books can apparently be viewed only on the Kindle. They do not show up in my iOS Kindle apps. Assuming I borrow one $8 book a month, the Prime account pays for itself.

The overall user experience of the Fire is fair-to-good. The Android tablet can do a few things that an iOS device can't. I can browse the entire file structure... I can download and save YouTube videos. I can access Flash content, theoretically--I've yet to see any Flash content--and the essential apps seem to be there. There's no DropBox, but a third-party app called "File Expert" can access DropBox folders. There's no Opera, but there's something called "Maxthon" that is actually better than Opera, and I use it whenever I don't want to bother with Silk's irksome dependence on Amazon's cloud server buffering. However, the iPad user experience is so superior to the Droid tablet's that one doesn't miss any extra marginal functionality that the "more open" Droid OS might offer. The Fire is clunkier than the iPad; basic functions like typing, error-correction, system-wide navagation are far less intuitive and elegant than the iPad's. Not to mention--the Fire is only secondarily a Droid tablet. If is primarily a content delivery system that just happens to use a fork of the Android OS.

It is apparent that Amazon is using the Fire to break Apple's monopoly on digital content, which is both laudible and understandable. But in so doing, they are creating yet another walled content garden--albeit one with much more content. As such, the iPad holds the edge. I can import and access digital content from both Google and Amazon on the iPad, whereas there appear to be no Google apps for the Fire. This prevents the Fire from being a full-fledged tablet. It is essentially a platform the delivery of content, with a few common apps thrown in.

I am seeing the Apple - Windows wars of the early '90s being repeated, and I fear that the outcome will be same. Apple introduces a quality device that is both disruptive and transformative, changing the entire user experience, only to have hungrier companies copy the form, hardware, and intellectual property of said device, and produce a cheaper, more basic knockoff. So while the iPad will live on, I am not sure that it will remain the dominant player in the category that it trailblazed. Which, depending on your point of view, can be good or bad.

(Sent from my Kindle Fire)

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