Unanswered Questions about the Amazon Kindle Fire

by Patrick Moorhead   |   September 30th, 2011

Amazon threw their axe into the tablet sea Wednesday with the launch of the Amazon Kindle Fire. On paper, the Kindle Fire seems like a killer value proposition. For $199, you get continuous computing access to 18 million books, movies, TV shows, music, newspapers, unlimited cloud content storage, and fastest web browsing. And all this at less than half the price of the Apple iPad 2. There are a few important, unanswered questions that could determine whether that deal is too good to be true.

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Delivered Responsiveness

Amazon had a great showing at their launch event, but attendees weren’t able to freely touch the tablet themselves. Demos were carefully scripted that showed how good the responsiveness was. I remember how amazingly responsive the TouchPad tablet demos were, only to be disappointed at launch with the lags. The lags were quickly fixed with a patch a few weeks later, but the damage was done. Basic pinch, zoom, page turn, app load and app close must be responsive or it will just feel cheap. Buying a tablet with bad touch is buying a car with a loose steering wheel and a missing tire.

Display Quality on Videos and Photos

At 7”, to effectively see video content at the same size versus a 10” tablet, users must hold it closer to their face. Will we be able to see pixels? Hold the original iPhone close to your face, play a video, and you can see the pixels. That for me could be a deal breaker, but hey, that’s me. At $199, the Kindle Fire is a less considered purchase, but still considered. Heck, consumers return $5 food items because they didn’t like it, so don’t think they wouldn’t return a $199 Kindle Fire if it didn’t do what they expected.

Video Content Quality

I am one of the few people who own a Google TV. While I like the Amazon streaming service, it can get quite pixelated at times. It happens a lot more than it happens on Netflix, too, which leads me to surmise that it’s an Amazon issue. Bandwidth won’t be an issue on the downloaded content, but, again, what about the quality? I have downloaded movies from Amazon Unbox on my laptop and sometimes they are pixelated in spots. My laptop is 1366×768 on a large display and the Kindle Fire has 1024X600 resolutions at 7”, so probability will hopefully be small. The final question is how 16:9 content looks on a 16:10 display. Will there be black blocks on the top or bottom of the display or will the content be zoomed in and possibly blurry?

Software Storage Footprint

With 8GB of storage, users will need to be very choosy with what movies, TV shows, music, games, apps and app content they store on the tablet. So the software storage footprint gets important. For example, if it takes 2GB, that leaves 6GB left for apps and content. The Amazon Cloud storage is great, but who wants to be deleting and re-downloading songs and apps to make room for a downloaded movie or a game that requires a huge, secondary download after install?

Let’s take a look on iTunes at the popular movie “X-Men: First Class”. It packs a 1.79 GB download. While I don’t think the Amazon “portable” version will weigh in at this size, users will still need to think about their storage, and that’s never good.

Silk Web Acceleration

Silk promises many things, and to the user it promises faster web page downloads for a more enjoyable browsing experience. It could, potentially, eliminate any browser compatibility issues with the device and a web page. For example, even if the Silk browser didn’t support  the latest or oldest web standards, by pre-rendering certain elements of the page, the user wouldn’t detect a thing, only that they can interact with the web page.

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This begs about 100 questions, but I’ll leave that for another analysis. I do have a few I will highlight.

  • Privacy: Amazon knows everywhere I’ve been. Is there a way to opt out? How will it protect my personal information ?
  • Standards: Which will it support, which won’t it?
  • Security: Will it capture my passwords?
  • Control: Will user have any kind of control over which sites get “silked” and which ones don’t? I can’t expect Amazon to pre-render every site correctly, particularly the smaller ones.

Conclusion

On paper, the Amazon Kindle Fire appears to provide an exceptional value proposition for the consumer who is on a budget and cannot afford the iPad 2. There are, however, many unknowns that have yet to be determined that could impact the user’s experience. My experience with Amazon is that they under-promise and over-deliver. It’s been that way since their existence. I don’t think they are going to stop that given the importance of Kindle Fire to Amazon. I ordered mine within 5 minutes of the “doors” open up and I’ll hopefully have the answers to these questions above.

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Patrick Moorhead

Patrick Moorhead was ranked the #1 technology industry analyst by Apollo Research for the U.S. and EMEA in May, 2013.. He is President and Principal Analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy, a high tech analyst firm focused on the ecosystem intersections of the phone, tablet, PC, TV, datacenter and cloud. Moorhead departed AMD in 2011 where he served as Corporate Vice President and Corporate Fellow in the strategy group. There, he developed long-term strategies for mobile computing devices and personal computers. In his 11 years at AMD he also led product management, business planning, product marketing, regional marketing, channel marketing, and corporate marketing. Moorhead worked at Compaq Computer Corp. during their run to the #1 market share leader position in personal computers. Moorhead also served as an executive at AltaVista E-commerce during their peak and pioneered cost per click e-commerce models.
  • Anonymous

    To answer one question, you can opt out of Silk and run the browser conventionally, though of course you lose the advantages of server-side rendering. I don;t think it is possible to automate this on a site-by-site basis.

    Amazon says passwords to SSL/TSL sites will be handled on a direct browser-to-site connection (presumably a tunnel of some sort) but is vague on how this is accomplished.

    • http://blogs.amd.com/all/author/pmoorhead/ Patrick Moorhead

      Thanks, Steve. I hope they have a Silk toggle on/off switch. Cases where Silk
      A) down
      B) slow
      C) not rendering correctly
      D) not rendering the way you want (ie images)
      E) privacy

      • http://techpinions.com/about-tech-pinions/steve-wildstrom Steve Wildstrom

        Yes. Amazon has said their is an option to revert to client-only browsing. Don’t know, however, how easy it will be to toggle on and off.

  • Rich

    Will Amazon allow upgrading of storage capacity on the Fire?

    • http://blogs.amd.com/all/author/pmoorhead/ Patrick Moorhead

      Storage is not upgradable on the Fire.

  • Anonymous

    Another answer (actually, discussion) re: pixelation.

    There ARE differences in display logic and technology that can make images look better or worse (e.g., the Super AMOLED PenTile tech that only had 2 colors at each “pixel”).

    But mostly, it’s a question of how many pixels are in front of you, because you’ll hold the device at a comfortable viewing distance. A 5″ screen at 1024X768 held at 10″ from your eyes should look nearly identical to a 10″ screen with the same resolution, held at 20″ from your eyes. Each pixel will take up the same fraction of your visual field.

    The Fire’s 1024X600 format is fine for movies, needing only a little bit of letterboxing or trimming, and ought to be fine for reading, too. I imagine that the big issue will be that most people like to see movies as a social event, and the 6″ X 3.5″ screen just won’t work for that.