Amazon Kindle Fire: Big Navigation Update Coming in 2 Weeks

on December 12 2011 3:27 PM
Amazon will roll out updates for its first tablet, the Kindle Fire, in about two weeks.
Amazon will roll out updates for its first tablet, the Kindle Fire, in about two weeks. Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

In less than two weeks, Amazon will roll out a major update for its first tablet, the Kindle Fire, which will reportedly improve the device's touchscreen navigation and give owners the ability to edit their recent browsing activity via the Kindle Fire's exclusive Web browser, Amazon Silk.

As with all of our products, we continue to make them better for customers with regular software updates, said Drew Herdener, an Amazon spokesperson. In fact, in less than two weeks, we're rolling out an over-the-air update to Kindle Fire that will improve performance, touch navigation and give customers the option to choose what items display on the carousel.

Amazon's Kindle Fire, which was released on Nov. 21 for $199, was designed to finally topple the Apple iPad by offering a device that was competitive in both overall performance and price. In addition to being $300 less than the cheapest available iPad, the Kindle Fire features a 7-inch IPS display, a dual-core processor, and weighs only 14.6 ounces. The tablet can access movies, songs, apps, books and magazines, which are all displayed on a bookshelf interface, which works like a carousel to keep the content mixed. Users can quickly access their favorite shows and movies by pinning them to the shelf.

Despite the promise of the Kindle Fire, owners of Amazon's new device have been vastly underwhelmed to the point of disgruntled. Customers have filed complaints about the lack of an external volume control, or how easy it is to hit the off switch by accident; Apple notoriously leaves this switch off its iOS devices for exactly this reason. Furthermore, users have said Web pages take too long to load on Amazon Silk and the browser lacks a privacy feature. Currently, any friend or family member can pick up an Amazon Kindle Fire and know exactly what its previous user was looking at.

I feel the Fire is going to be a failure, said Jakob Nielsen, an expert at Silicon Valley consulting group Nielsen Norman Group. I can't recommend buying it.

In addition to the bugs and software issues, analysts and critics have serious concerns about the usability of the Kindle Fire going forward. Amazon hopes the coming update will mitigate some of these complaints, but reviews and analyses have found innumerable issues with the device that it may not survive in its current form.

What else are you going to do on this Kindle, asked Andrew Rassweiler, a senior director at iSuppli. Nothing. It's a useless device unless you're planning on putting bucks, a lot of books, on it.

Too many issues, particularly in the reading experience, plague the Kindle Fire and prevent it from being an enjoyable experience. The search mode is outdated and lacks a real prioritization engine, headlines can't be clicked on, and page and text views are borderline unreadable. Furthermore, despite the Kindle Fire's lack of physical buttons, many reviewers say they actually prefer the buttons on the older Kindle design better, simply because the small touchscreen buttons on the Fire don't let you see what you're clicking on. This has led to frequent tap errors and accidental activation, whether it's for inputting text or simply browsing through articles and magazines.

However, there's no denying that Amazon's tablet has resonated with the public, especially with its moderate price tag. In the first five days of pre-order availability, Amazon sold 250,000 pre-orders for the Kindle Fire, an average of 50,000 units per day.

Kindle Fire is the most successful product we've ever launched - we've already sold millions of units and we're building more to meet the strong demand, Herdener said.

Amazon has refused to release any official sales figures from any of its Kindle devices, but Best Buy recently announced that the Kindle Fire has dethroned Apple's iPad as the top-selling tablet at its retail stores. Researcher IHS iSuppli adds Amazon quadrupled its Kindle sales on Black Friday this year, and believes Amazon will sell 3.9 million Kindle Fires by the end of December.