That total includes the Kindle Reader that my brother gave my mom — a wise choice, I think, for a 93-year-old — but it’s safe to assume that most of the others were Kindle Fires. Those numbers forever guarantee the Kindle Fire’s place as the ubiquitous four-door sedan of Android tablets. And there’s nothing that Acer or Asus or Archos — or even Google — can do about that.
I’m sure, too, that almost every person who unwrapped a new Kindle Fire on Christmas morning was thrilled, just as my wife was when I gave her one a month ago. But there’s a little secret — and you’ll figure it out soon if you haven’t already — and it matches what Betsy said. There is a lot the Amazon Kindle Fire just cannot do.
Photo Courtesy: Rob Willcox
For starters, there are the technology limitations. No GPS, no 3G, no camera, no microphone and no memory expansion capability. (ED: Also, where are the parental controls to keep kids from buying — or to keep the tipsy from going on drunk buying sprees? Ideas? See below for commentary from our own Brian Burgess.)
I doubt the hardware limitations will concern a lot of people. Amazon is clearly providing a great value for $199. I expect that the next generation of Kindle tablets will provide even more hardware goodness at loss-leader pricing.
But let’s be blunt. Hardware is just plumbing. Software is what matters — and the Kindle Fire’s software is the reason why most new owners will grow increasingly dissatisfied with this year’s gift. Because, really, what do you really have when someone gives you a Kindle? A superb platform for buying stuff from Amazon? Definitely. Something that even begins to approximate the full Android tablet experience? Not a chance.
Every Kindle Fire owner has been cheated by Amazon’s unconscionable software decisions.
I know it’s possible via a convoluted process to sideload apps on a Kindle Fire. But you’ll never get Gmail or Google Maps to run that way. And plenty of third party apps will fail, too.
It’s also possible, if you’re handy and don’t mind voiding your warranty, to root the Kindle Fire and install one of the customized Cyanogen builds floating around on phone hacker sites — like xda-developers.com. This way you’ll obtain access to the full Android experience.
Realistically though, the percentage of Kindle Fire owners ready to go that route is miniscule. Most will just go on feeling mopey whenever they see what an iPad or a real Android tablet can do.
The Kindle Fire’s success is a fine demonstration of the power of loss-leader pricing and of Amazon’s general marketing prowess. But it’s time for Amazon to migrate the existing Kindle Fire, and the next generation, to a full Android 4.0.2 Ice Cream Sandwich mobile OS that gives its customers what they deserve: a real Android tablet with Android Market access and Google apps.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and company needn’t worry: grateful customers will still buy plenty of Amazon books, movies and apps.
The only difference is that they’ll finally be doing so from a device that actually delivers what they thought they were buying in the first place.