Amazon plots Kindle Fire update: Aims to weather first flap

Summary:Although volume control gets the press, the biggest issue for Amazon is fixing the one-click buying without a password. That's a parental nightmare.

Amazon is learning life in the tablet market is a bit different than e-readers. The critics, who are talking about volume control, user interface and one-click shopping, are starting to pile up. The open question here is whether Amazon is facing a crisis or just a hiccup.

Much of the latest consternation around the Kindle Fire is summed up by a New York Times story. The most disgruntled are sending the Fire back. No external volume control is a hassle; privacy concerns abound and a sometimes clunky UI are the biggest beefs. User interface expert Jakob Nielsen has panned the Fire. Amazon said it will update the software in less than two weeks.

The complaints are largely found on Amazon's support site and present a more nuanced view. Here are a few excerpts:

Note this one:

The power button is in an annoying spot but I haven't had issues yet accidentally shutting it off. The volume controls are horrible. With only a virtual slide that is hidden in the settings, it’s too many clicks to get to the volume controls. A simple software update could place the volume control on the main taskbar (still virtual, but much easier to access).

However, that same review has the following:

When I got down to the heart of it, for what I actually use these devices for, the Kindle Fire is a cheap alternative to an iPad that has all of the functionality that I want at less than a third of the price.

And then there's this one:

I was really excited to buy Kindle Fire as a gift for my 5 year old twins but after trying it for a day now, I have decided to return it for the following reasons - Absolute lack of parental controls on content (apps, music, videos, web) Please pardon me the "parents are the parental" control non-sense. It is not about control kids, it is about keeping kids safe while letting them be independent and curious. - Lack of control on apps or content purchases - General lack of kids’ content specially books. - Cumbersome interface (volume control, double taps, sluggish touch response

Sorry to be disappointed with Kindle Fire but it is not ready for prime-time as a content consumption device especially for the young kids.

That complaint carries some weight since many folks see the Fire as a kid tablet. All of my daughter's elementary school pals are asking for iPads for Christmas and borrowing my Kindle Fire to see if the kids will like the device and save mom and dad some dollars.

Read the heated arguments: Great Debate: Kindle Fire or iPad: Which one should you buy?

So what's my take? I've had the Fire for nearly a month now. The volume controls throw me off, but a software update could fix that somewhat. The UI stumbles are definitely there too. But there hasn't been anything that has inspired me to throw in the towel. The apps run better on the Fire than they do on my force-close happy Samsung Galaxy Tab with Honeycomb. One-click buying is an issue for the kids, but my bigger priority right now is limiting iPod Touch purchases from the younger, but increasingly savvy children.

In other words, the jury is still out on this Kindle Fire in crisis storyline. This crisis would be much larger if the Fire were selling for $499. At $199, the complaint calculus changes. My gut tells me that the Fire would have to be a complete disaster for the masses to send it back. The Fire isn't a disaster and $199 will cover a lot of flaws for those expecting an iPad killer.

The Amazon reviews seem to back up the more middle of the road view of the Fire.

  • 47 percent of reviews are 5-star;
  • 19 percent are 4-star;
  • 12 percent are 3-star;
  • 9 percent are 2 star;
  • 13 percent are 1 star.

To me the biggest issue for Amazon is fixing the one-click buying without a password. That's a parental nightmare. This review sums it up:

Just think for a minute. Every purchase you make with your Kindle or Fire is charged to your default card. There's no password, no sign-in, nothing. So anyone who physically has a hold of your device has a direct line to your credit card. Remember this if you lose it or it gets stolen, and you might want to be extra careful who you loan it to. Really, Amazon - how hard is it to make a password requirement for purchases? I was thinking of giving my Fire to my daughter. The fact that she could purchase anything she wants without a password (and therefore without any oversight) is making me think again.

It's no secret that the Fire is built for shopping, but the tablet market has to be different. Amazon is going to have to move away from its standard practices and make shopping a bit harder on the Fire for security.

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Topics: Hardware, Amazon, Mobility

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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