Monday, October 24, 2011

Thoughts on Amazon's New Kindle Fire Tablet

A couple of weeks ago, Amazon took the wrapping of its new and much discussed tablet. The new Amazon Kindle Fire tablet has been called an iPad-killer by some, but I have my doubts. Granted I have not actually used it yet (it will not be shipped until November 15), but I've read enough to form my own conclusions.

Operating System
One of my biggest concerns is the operating system. Amazon took the Android operating system and created their own version or fork. This creates two problems for me. One, Amazon's fork is not based on the latest version of Android (3.2.1). (Android 4.0 has just been released.) Instead, the fork is based on version 2.3. This seems to indicate to me that the Fire will not have all of the latest features you can with other Android based tablets. It almost seems that Amazon is handicapping itself before it even enters the ring.

The second concern that I have about the operating system is the apps store. Unlike other Android tablets, which use the official Android Market to purchase apps, to get apps for the Fire you have to go to the Amazon Appstore. There are not as many apps available in the Appstore than the Market and I did not see any apps written by Google. This makes me wonder if apps for the Fire need to be written differently than regular Android apps.

When Amazon modified the operating system, they also included their own web browser, which they call Silk. While it is based on Webkit, like the regular Android browser, it works like Opera Mini. When you request a page with the Silk browsers, it divides the work between the tablet and Amazon's servers. This means that besides your ISP knowing what you surf, Amazon knows (for their ad database). From what I read, even the government has questions about the security ramifications. Thankfully, it sounds like you can turn this feature off and render everything on the tablet.

I don't know too much about the CPU in the Fire, so I won't comment on it (except that it is made by Texas Instrument, a company that is known for its calculators). There are a couple of things that bother me about the hardware configuration. There's no camera and no microphone. For me, this is a deal breaker. Every mobile device available has a camera and a microphone. The lack of both just makes it stand out from the pack, but not in a good way. Also, the Fire's screen is 7 inches, while most of the others are several inches larger. The one thing 

Final Thoughts
Amazon is making an effort to make a splash in the tablet market. With a price that is $100 less that the iPad, they will do just that. (Interestingly, Apple received a couple sample of a 7 inch "iPad mini". So far this is just a rumor. The late Steve Jobs said that 10 inches was the minimum size, but you never know. If the market demands it, they will probably make it.) To me, it almost seems like the Fire is more  of a beta, than a finished project. It may seem like a great deal for some, but I'd wait for the next version and hope they get around to adding a microphone and camera. Time will tell.