With the holiday season upon us, and tablets at the top of many gift lists, it’s all but certain that millions of new users will get exposed to an open source based Android Tablet. By all accounts, Amazon’s Kindle Fire is expected to leapfrog into, at least, number two position in the tablet market. While this would appear to be good news for Android tablets and the Android OS, it may actually be exactly what Apple and Microsoft had asked for Christmas (or any other holiday these companies choose to celebrate).
Great price and Amazon content versus clunky user experience
I’m not going to do a blow by blow review of the Kindle Fire. Glen has a good review of the Kindle Fire versus Apple iPad. I’d also recommend the Kindle Fire review from Instapaper developer Marco Arment from a user experience standpoint.
The first common thread across reviews is the price of a Kindle tablet, at $199, can’t be beat. Some have referred to the Kindle Fire as the people’s tablet.
Second, reviews are virtually unanimous that the Kindle Fire is great when restricted to Amazon’s content, even if some magazines aren’t optimal for a 7 inch screen. The Kindle Fire becomes less attractive as users venture outside of Amazon’s content garden. Even the new Silk browser, touted to speed on device browsing, appears to be a let down.
Finally, many reviews describe a less than delightful user experience while using the Kindle Fire operating system and user interface. The Kindle Fire OS responsiveness is said to lag user input, sometimes forcing users to redo an action only to find that the first input was in fact registered.
The 7 inch form factor, while easier to hold than a 10 inch tablet, presents the added complication of smaller targets for users to press in order to carry out their intended tasks. One of Arment’s issues with the Kindle Fire interface is that: “Many touch targets throughout the interface are too small, and I miss a lot. It’s often hard to distinguish a miss from interface lag.”
Like it or not, iPad is Kindle Fire’s comparison
There are many older users who don’t need a laptop and could benefit from a small and moderately priced tablet for email, browsing and reading. A Kindle Fire seems like a great solution. It’s likely that many of this cohort will receive a Kindle Fire from a well meaning family member or friend. In fact, my wife suggested getting a Kindle Fire for several retired members of our family.
However, the usability issues that Arment brings up, especially surrounding interface lag and smaller touch targets will undoubtedly have an impact on their desire to use the device, or store it away with that interesting looking tie received over the holidays.
It seems that a lack of comfort with new computing devices, fat thumbs and poor eyesight, something we all have to look forward to, aren’t great ingredients for being delighted with the Kindle Fire.
Even younger users, many who own or have used an iPod touch or iPhone are at risk of being annoyed with the lag and user interface roughness of the Kindle Fire.
Some have argued that you can’t compare a $499 iPad with a $199 Kindle Fire. That’s true, on paper. In practice, users are going to compare their Kindle Fire experience with an iPad. There isn’t a tablet market, there’s an iPad market. It’s the reason that most Kindle Fire reviews compare to the leading entry in the market, the iPad, and not other Android or 7 inch based tablet.
A poor Kindle Fire experience reflects on Android
When the Kindle Fire is perceived to deliver a less enjoyable experience than an iPad, the real risk is that the Android tablet market will be viewed in the same light as the Kindle Fire. That may not be fair considering Amazon has forked the Android OS, and Android continues to get better. However, since the Kindle Fire is expected to reach an order of vastly more users than other Android tablets, and considering Amazon’s technical reach, don’t be surprised if typical users generalize their Kindle Fire experience to Android tablets.
Earlier this week Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s Ashlee Vance wrote on his Twitter feed: “Just opened up the old Kindle Fire. Android sure has a Windows 3.0 feel, dunnit?”
That is exactly the type of comment that should make Apple happy and give Microsoft a faint hope in their tablet plans. If Amazon, with its great content and proven track record with Kindle devices, can’t pull off a device users prefer to an iPad, then what’s the likelihood that any Android vendor can?
I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies, or opinions.