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I wanted to believe, I really did.  It has been over a month since my first impressions of the Amazon Kindle Fire.  Over the holidays, I processed a return for my Kindle Fire.  When the Fire was announced I was intrigued and excited as I thought that Amazon had the real potential to make a great product and the customer base to capitalize on that potential.  For me, it just didn’t live up to the hype.  I’ll stress that last sentence…this is my opinion based on my experiences/desires.  As with anything in life, your mileage may vary.

So what went wrong?

I used the Fire a lot.  I watched videos on it daily (my evening ritual of getting caught up on TV) via Netflix and Hulu apps.  I rented about 10 movies via Amazon on the device.  For video, it was great.  For everything else, it was pretty much frustrating for me.  I’ve been able to isolate it to a few areas: apps, user experience, prejudice.

Apps

I downloaded the free daily app from the Amazon Android store daily…and ended up with a device full of sub-standard products mostly.  The Hulu app really was the only 3rd party one that I felt was designed for the Fire and did most things well.  Even then it had quirks, but mostly it was fine.  Netflix’s app is horrible, lagging, confusing and not enjoyable to use before you get to the playing content.  Most other apps just weren’t doing anything for me.

The lack of a Mail solution *provided by the device* for my mail configuration led to a decreased usage in the device to me.  The responsiveness in the games that I acquired was just not there as well.  Overall I felt the only “app” I was using was video playback.  Everything else wasn’t cutting it…even the Kindle reading app was just too bright for me for long periods of reading.

User Experience

Large area of failure here for me.  Here’s my list of areas that lacked polish and just failed:

  • Hardware home button – I’m realizing how important this really is.  My kids couldn’t figure out how to get back to the ‘start’ screen.  On the iPad, they know immediately.
  • Software ‘home bar’ (not sure what to call it) sometimes appeared, sometimes didn’t.
  • Touch responsiveness – I felt like I had to do gestures multiple times to get it to respond.  The first update was said to fix some of this, but it didn’t do anything noticeable for my use.
  • Touch feedback – I know this seems odd, but there were times I couldn’t tell if I had actually completed a touch interaction…visual state changes didn’t happen, etc.
  • Orientation changing – general inconsistency here in what was supported or not within the own set of experiences delivered by the Fire.  But the transition from one orientation to another was jarring, like a snap rather than a smooth transition.
  • Apps experience – no consistency.  I’m not looking for lets-make-every-app-the-same consistency, but as a user there was know real reliability in controls usage, visuals, responsiveness, action expectations, etc.  This is the good/bad of the Android platform – ultimate freedom but at the price of confusion and quality sometimes.
  • Application lifetime – the management of the state of an application was horrible for an end-user.  The parts of Android really showed through here.  I would occasionally get “not responding” windows in an application or when trying to start one.  These types of things do not pass the mother-in-law sniff test for me.

These were some of the things that continually frustrated me.  There were other nits, but not always in my face. 

Prejudice

Aside from any technical reasons the biggest factor for my return is prejudice.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Amazon.  I’m a Prime member, and only get my purchased digital media from them (i.e., video rentals and MP3).  They have great service offerings and catalog of goods.  These are all the reasons I thought they could execute well out-of-the-gate with the Fire.

However, I also have an iPad.

Make no mistake about it: if you use an iPad for the same amount of time you use a Kindle Fire, you will likely share the same experience that the iPad just is an all-around better product currently.  Now the media (and users like myself) are the ones drawing the comparisons of the Fire to an iPad.  Amazon itself hasn’t done any comparisons side-by-side or even remotely close.  They have never marketed (to my knowledge) the Fire as an iPad competitor.  But that doesn’t matter…because consumers rule the world and we have already drawn that conclusion.  Bottom line is that if you are making a touch device I can travel with that has media and a store where I can get application and content – you’re competing with the iPad.

Since I already am an iPad user I could not erase the experience that I have with my iPad when using the Fire.  All my user experience annoyances around touch are because it is just better on the iPad.  If I didn’t have an iPad, maybe my perception would be hugely different.  But since I have one, my prejudice is set and the comparison bar as well.

Holiday gift taste test

When I arrived to the in-laws for the holidays they mentioned they were getting my wife’s ~80yr old (*very* active) grandmother a Kindle Fire because that is what she wanted.  I shirked a bit (and probably commented too much) at the idea and told them I didn’t think this was a good idea.  GG (as we call her since she has 12 great-grandchildren) is not technically savvy and has never had anything remotely considered “new tech” in her life.  I knew that it would fall on me to be the resident Nick Burns and trainer for the holiday week.  And the time did come where I had to do that.  It went something like this *before* we started configuring her Fire…

Me: GG, why do you want a Fire?
GG: I want to get ‘with the times’ and this seems to be a hot item.
Me: Do you have an Amazon account or have ever bought anything on Amazon?
GG: No, never.  Can’t I put books on it?
Me: Yes, but where do you plan on getting those books?
GG: Can’t I get them anywhere?
Me: No, you’ll be buying them through Amazon.

NOTE: I didn’t want to explain that technically you could put other publications on there as I knew that would be an action never accomplished.

GG: You mean I can’t get something from Barnes and Noble and put it on my Fire?
Me: No.  But why would you, Amazon has a massive content library.
GG: Well, that seems monopolistic.  What about movies?
Me: Yep, you can get movies, but through Amazon.
Me: Most of the time anything you put on there you will be buying from Amazon

This point seemed to have been lost on GG when desiring this device.  Regardless we proceeded with the setup.  Now since the device was purchased from the mother-in-law, when powered on it was attached to her account and we had to set up a new account for GG.  This was going to be fun, I thought.

The first step was to create an Amazon account since she didn’t have one.  The first screen on the Fire to do this asks for 4 simple bits of information: email, username, password, password confirmation.  This was the first introduction GG had to a software keyboard and it did not go well.  The first mistake made was to “press” the keyboard and I had to educate that click, press, push are no longer useful but rather tap, swipe, tap+hold are the new ways she needed to think.  This took some training as she continually hit wrong keys, held the key too long which produced duplicates, etc.  I am not sure if it was her bifocals or what but GG was continually ‘off by 1’ on the keyboard and we had many times to The password field was the hardest because it obfuscated the letter after typing it, providing minimal visual time to see if what was typed was correct.  Now I timed this exercise myself so I could see how long this really took.  With no exaggeration the time to complete this screen was about 30 minutes.  The password/re-enter password took up most of that time.  The next screen was address information…to which I offered to enter this data for her :-).  After that was credit card data.

GG: Why do they need my credit card?
Me: How do you plan on buying anything, money order?

In seriousness, this pointed to a generational gap of this concept of stored account information for one-click purchasing that is available on things like Amazon, Apple, anywhere.

We moved on to a review of the Fire and notable me mentioning that the user guide itself was a Kindle book.  This did not please GG as she was used to a manual.  Since she is a Scrabble lover and other folks in the house were playing Words with Friends, we downloaded that app, set her up an account, and taught her how to play that.  Again, the touch interaction here was painful to watch.

My bottom line for sharing this anecdote is that I don’t think the Fire is an every-generation device.  Contrast that to the iPad, where I think she would have had a much better on-boarding experience.  I left GG alone for the day with her device and the next day she shared her frustration that things didn’t seem to work and it was hard to use the touch keyboard and understand what to do.  Now I can easily (and will) chalk this up to a generational thing and a first-time ‘device’ user in GG.  However, it pointed to a fact to me that the Fire is only for a class of folks who are familiar with computers in a more-than-one-time-usage manner.

Summary

I will stress that again, for me, the Kindle Fire was a bust.  I still faithfully have my own Kindle reader which I will still hail as the ultimate in reading devices (and think that is what GG should exchange her Fire for).  The Fire, in current form, however is a bust in my opinion.  I think Amazon *can* get this right if they put some muscle behind it and tighten up the Android edges that show and concentrate a little more on experience refinement.  I absolutely loved the size of the device (hoping Apple takes note) and think that in a few versions they might get it right.

But for now, the Kindle Fire has been returned…and with a great customer service policy, my money fully refunded, satisfaction guaranteed.


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