Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My love of Fire

Let me tell you a story. I've wanted a Kindle for a while. This desire grew more intense over the past 6 months or so. I had decided that, if possible, I was going to finally get one for my birthday this year. Then, the day after my 20th wedding anniversary, Jeff Bezos delivered an announcement and I knew exactly what I wanted: not just a Kindle, but a Kindle Fire!

This sounded like a device that was tailor-made for me. As I said, I wanted a Kindle but held out for many years in the hope of one day having a color screen. I wanted an iPad since I already had an iPhone; I knew many of the tasks I used the phone for could benefit from a bigger screen. The iPad was definitely on my wish list but considering our lack of funds, it remained elusive. This new "Kindle Plus" device seemed like it would, if nothing else, be a good tablet-ish choice for me while I continued to dream of one day becoming an iPad owner. I figured if I got enough money for my birthday, I'd preorder a Kindle Fire. And that's what I did. :)

Background on me: I like technology & gadgets but have had a pretty limited budget over the past few years. (The rumors are true. Turns out kids ARE a "time suck" and a "money suck".) We are a 1 income, 1 car family. Our iPhones are not the latest models, and they were refurbished models whe we bought them, as well. I'm not complaining here; I'm just saying I can be satisfied with less than the "latest & greatest", and I suspect there are others like me. :) For what it promised to deliver to me (bigger screen than my iPhone, popular apps, Netflix, etc.), the $199 price tag was right. I also felt fairly confident that having an Amazon/Kindle pedigree would give it a good chance to succeed. From the start, we were hearing that it was selling well. I believed two things would contribute to the success of this tablet-hybrid. One, having that Amazon name & ecosystem. Two, it had an attention-grabbing $199 price tag. Yes, there are better tablets with more features. Great specs are nice, but it isn't always the whole story as to why something will sell. For an example of this, look at the latest generation of gaming consoles. The Wii certainly did not have the superior specs compared to the Xbox 360 or PS3. But it had the cheaper price tag, the gimmick/novelty of the Wii Remote, and the pedigree of Nintendo and their licensed characters like Mario & Zelda. It was family-friendly with a price that families could afford. And it sold like crazy, driving hard-core gamers crazy since it obviously was an "inferior system"!

So...November 15th arrives. Reviews break out on the web right around the release, and they are mixed. Some are glowing; some are downright ugly. But a lot of what I read in the negative reviews were based on comparing the Kindle Fire to the iPad. And the question should be asked: is it fair to compare the two? My answer is no...and yes. (I'll answer the "yes" part more in a bit.) My own Kindle Fire arrived on November 16th. Some of the criticism is fair. The carousel is a bit flaky in terms of where it lands. There is no hardware volume control, which would really be nice to have. But some of the criticism gets colored by people who are iPad users. And as I said, if you're comparing a product that is not as feature-rich to a more expensive tablet, it will naturally pale in comparison.

Let's go over some of the advantages that were given to the iPad in reviews I read. First, people said the iPad's app store was much larger. This one is silly. You're comparing a two year old product's store to one that was just released. When the iPad was first out, the app store for iPhones was much larger than the iPad store, you might remember. I'm quite happy with the Amazon App Store for the Fire. It has a good selection of popular apps, and some Android app makers are even releasing Kindle Fire optimized apps. There's quite a bit there considering the Fire's been out for less than a month.

Another advantage of the iPad? The larger screen. Why, yes, the iPad screen is larger! If you're going from an iPad down to the Kindle Fire, then the K Fire will seems smaller (because it is) and will perhaps seem inadequate. But...what if you're like me and moving from a phone to the larger 7 inch screen? I used to watch Netflix and read Kindle books on my little phone screen. I don't spend my time thinking my Kindle Fire screen is too small compared to an iPad. Sorry! And even though it's smaller than an iPad, this also can end up being an advantage depending on your situation. Some say the smaller size makes it more portable than the larger tablets. Not having carried around an iPad, I can't fully comment on this. But I will say that I find the Fire to be easy for me to carry around the house, and holding it for a while is not fatiguing for me.

And I'm sorry, but one of the dumbest negative critiques I heard about the Fire was its design. My understanding is that it looks like a Blackberry Playbook. Ok, so it's not all that exciting. But one thing I noticed is that when I saw all the Kindle models side by side on Amazon's front page, this particular design seems to fit nicely in the Kindle family. I read a review that mentioned an important point: the design may not be sleek and impressive, but it also doesn't distract from the most-viewed part of the device, the screen. I think if you're spending any amount of time complaining that the Fire is too "plain Jane"- looking instead of using the screen and playing with the tablet itself, then "you're doing it wrong". ;)

Why, then, does the Fire get compared to the iPad so much if it's not exactly a comparable product? (You'll notice Amazon was clever enough to brand it a Kindle, as opposed to calling it an Amazon Tablet.) Why did we hear extremes from reviewers calling the Fire something as important as an "iPad killer", while other critics felt the Fire was a piece of garbage that no one should bother to buy? Simple: because, in a way, it IS fair to compare the two items. Like myself, this could be the first foray into the tablet world for a lot of people. Even though the Fire is not a complete tablet (which is why the "Kindle Plus" or tablet-hybrid title suits it better), it does an awful lot of the same things that many folks would be doing with a tablet/iPad. And the other things the Fire can't do? Many people can live without them, considering the price is less than half the price for the Fire as opposed to the cheapest iPad.

Everyone has different needs. If your budget allows it, you'll be very happy with an iPad, I'm sure. But there IS a market for the Kindle Fire. Just like I mentioned in my earlier example, there ended up being a group of people who bought a Wii, and a group of people who bought an Xbox 360. To say that the Fire, compared to the iPad, isn't worth thinking about simply because the iPad is better, is to discount the needs of the person who might be looking at the Fire in the first place. I believe that the market can handle more than 1 popular tablet product. I believe the iPad will still be the standard, #1 tablet for quite some time. But #2 hit the ground running, didn't it? ;)

Oh...and, one more thing. ;)

Remember that "iPad killer" comment that circulated? I, too, laughed at that one. But, guess what? I just realized the other day that I don't have iPad envy anymore. The idea of owning an iPad has kinda dropped off my radar. I heard the other day that Apple isn't worried about the Fire as competition, and that they even think the Fire could prove to be a "gateway drug" into the the land of the "real" tablet, the iPad. And yet, what if Amazon does come up with the larger tablet that they are expected to release next year? And what if it has more features than the Fire and has a cheaper price tag than the iPad? There are a whole bunch of people who are now getting thrown into the Amazon ecosystem and they might not exactly feel like buying their apps again in iTunes. Hmmm...the future is an interesting thing, isn't it?

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