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In The Air Tonight


The Kindle Fire HD – Photo courtesy of The Verge

For Christmas of 2011, I bought my girlfriend a Kindle Fire. She’s a dedicated Amazon Prime member, using their two-day shipping whenever possible and abusing the Prime Instant video catalog. I was tempted to get her an Android tablet to accompany her phone at the time, a T-Mobile G2, but the Amazon App Store, MP3 Store, and Kindle services sealed the deal. On Christmas morning, I saw her face light up with surprised delight as she revealed the Kindle Fire box. She began playing with it immediately.

As she settled down with it, problems began to surface. She absolutely hated the Carousel interface. She couldn’t stand how dreadful the default browser was. She calmed the urge to throw the device across the room every time the display didn’t refresh quickly, leaving a ghost of the previous screen. She found a limited selection in the Amazon App Store. Overall, she kept coming back to one niggling problem she had with the Kindle Fire: it’s so slow.

She didn’t want to risk a device tied with her sacred Amazon account to be experimented on, so rooting the Fire and applying a different interface was right out of the question. She liked being able to borrow books from the Kindle Lending Library, as well as the Prime Video options. Whenever she wanted to use the Kindle Fire as an actual tablet, however, she kept asking to borrow my iPad for a bit.

She’s not the only one complaining about the sluggish behavior of the first-gen Kindle Fire. Tim Stevens of Engadget says in his review, “…the Fire never delivers smooth, seamless performance.” Jon Philips of Wired agress with Mr. Stevens’ assessment, adding, “The Fire isn’t a dud, but its real-world performance and utility match neither the benchmarks of public expectation, nor the standards set by the world’s best tablets.” Casey Johnston of Ars Techinca summarizes my concerns with, “…the Kindle Fire is pretty pokey, and the browsing experience is not (yet) what was promised.”

So, with the new $299 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD shipping in November, I can’t get excited over it. I can only regard their new devices with doubt. Amazon may have the services to compete in the big leagues, but the real answer reveals itself when actually using their devices. The original Kindle Fire sold out during the holiday season of 2011, despite the lackluster reviews, but sales of the device plummeted in the first quarter of 2012. Only until very recently did the Kindle Fire sell out once again.

Amazon can become a big force in the tablet market. They have the huge Kindle library. They keep improving their Prime Video library. They have tons of discount sales in their MP3 store. Amazon can compete with the vast tracts of content they wield, but they need a top-league device to show that content off. The Kindle Fire was a marketing gale of wind that dissipated into a slight breeze. That leaves a cloud of doubt in the wake of the Kindle Fire HD’s announcement, while we wait to see if Amazon made a device worthy of those services.