Pre-launch "artist" rendering of Kindle Fire
UPDATED: Now that we've seen the announcement, these reasons are updated. One goes away!
I've had an interesting relationship with the Kindle. I absolutely love the design of the Kindle service, how books can be read on almost any device, and how they stay in sync (mostly) between machines.
I love how Amazon has smartly made it possible to read your library where you want to read it, so if you want to one day read a book on your iPad you can. If later, you want to curl up in bed and read it, one handed, with an iPhone, you can. If, at another time, you want to prop your netbook on the arm of a chair and read your book, you can do that, too -- all with the same book.
There's DRM in the Kindle ecosystem, but the usage model is so flexible that it is hardly ever apparent.
But I dislike the Kindle device intensely. It feels like the user interface was designed by a hardware engineer who only grudgingly recognizes that real people have to touch his gear. It's slow, it's cumbersome, the keyboard is terrible, bookmarking is incredibly inconvenient, and it's completely devoid of any UI elegance whatsoever.
I bought a Kindle 2 and returned it shortly thereafter. The e-ink screen was simply unacceptable. My wife later bought a Kindle 3 and although the screen is much nicer than that of the Kindle 2, she still finds herself reading Kindle books on almost any device other than the Kindle. She likes it for battery life and portability, but finds reading on a netbook to be a much nicer experience.
As a device, the e-ink Kindle, frankly, kinda sucks.
So, it's with some degree of trepidation that I welcome the new Kindle Fire into the world. First, let's talk about the name. There's something twisted going on in a world where book burning is a heinous act, naming your book-reading device "Fire". Just saying'.
In any case, as we all know by now, Amazon is introducing the new Kindle Fire later today and before you rush out and spend your hard-earned cash, I'd like to caution you. There are some good reasons you might NOT want to buy a new Kindle Fire.
A dozen of them, in fact.
Reason 1: Out-of-date Android
The single biggest reason you might not want to buy a new Kindle Fire is because it's most likely going to be running the old 2.1 Eclair version of Android. For those keeping track, that's actually ten revs behind the current tablet Android release, 3.2 Honeycomb. There was 2.2 Froyo, 2.3 Gingerbread, 2.3.3, 2.3.4, 2.3.5, 2.3.6, 2.3.7, 3.0 Honeycomb, 3.1, and, finally, 3.2.
All indications are that Amazon has customized their version of Android, but still, that means you're essentially running something almost two years out of date.
Reason 2: It's not really Android
If you're interested in the Kindle Fire because it's an Android tablet made by Amazon, think again. Because Amazon is likely to be hacking it up and making it their own, anything you want to run from the real Android world may or may not run on the Fire.
Plus, from a more geopolitical point of view, Amazon is adding one more fork in the already twisted road of Android distributions.
On one hand, they're taking advantage of an open environment, which is what open is all about. On the other hand, they're specifically not working and playing well with others, to the harm of the entire ecosystem.
Reason 3: No Netflix?
Netflix has had a pretty choppy history with Android devices. This isn't the company's fault. It's just that they pretty much have to make a new player for each new device, and that's a lot of coding.
If you visit the Amazon Appstore for Android, you'll notice there's no Netflix player. There are a few queue management apps there, but no actual playback player. This might not be by accident.
Since Amazon is going all out providing content through their own Prime and instant video services, they're unlikely to want to give Netflix a foothold into their environment. So, that means if you get the Fire, you might not be able to play Netflix movies or TV on it.
Reason 4: Who wants a BlackBerry PlayBook hand-me-down?
According to Ryan Block over at gdgt, the "new" Kindle Fire is really just a BlackBerry PlayBook with some new software. The Fire was apparently designed opportunistically by the same company, Quanta, that did the PlayBook -- and it's essentially the same hardware.
Now, I have to say I like the form-factor of the PlayBook, but we know the device hasn't really resonated with consumers.
Do you really want to buy hand-me-down hardware that's already failed in the marketplace once?
Reason 5: This may be a "placeholder" device
We're also seeing indications that the Fire is being brought to market so Amazon has a tablet play -- not because this is the best design or hardware they could field.
If you've looked at how the Kindle itself has evolved, the original Kindle is a substantially more primitive machine than the current e-ink Kindle.
Most likely, Amazon is working on a far better device than the one they're announcing today -- and when they ship that, you'll feel bad that you bought this one.
Reason 6: A new Nook is coming out soon
We're also hearing rumors that there's a new, faster, better, cheaper color Nook coming out in the next month or so, and that Amazon is announcing the Fire as a way of pre-empting that announcement.
The thing is, the Nook color has been something of a pleasant surprise, and it's likely that the new Nook color would be a substantial improvement on an already fine product.
Once you get a look at the new Nook color, you may regret your purchase of the Kindle Fire.
Reason 7: It's probably going to be too expensive
Update: The rumors were wrong on this one. The Kindle fire is $199. As I mentioned below, that was the price to meet. Color me impressed. At this price, the Kindle fire may well be a game-changer.
Tablets are expensive hardware to produce. The iPad, which starts at about $500, is at the top of the line for what consumers will tolerate. As we saw with the TouchPad fire sale, it's only when tablets get down to the hundred buck range that they begin to really excite consumers.
We're hearing the Kindle Fire will be $250 or $300, and -- at that price -- it's just not enough bang for the buck. Plus, you know Amazon will also hold a Fire sale, and the price will come down repeatedly over the coming months.
Honestly, anything over about $199 is going to be too expensive for what the Kindle Fire offers.
Reason 8: No Android App store
While you'll probably be able to get all the apps you want from Amazon's Appstore, you will not be able to get apps from the canonical Google Android App store that should be available to all Android users.
That also means you're going to be getting special or custom or possibly nerfed versions of apps, because they're specifically meant for the Fire and not for the wider Android ecosystem.
Reason 9: Amazon might not be ready for this
The Kindle was clearly an appliance, in that it did one thing and did it marginally well. Tablets, on the other hand, are actually general-purpose computers. Sure, companies like Apple have tried to lock the machines down to meet their corporate doctrines, but the device still needs to be able to run a lot of different applications.
Amazon has never had to deal with supporting hardware that runs software other than their own. This is completely new ground for them. Granted, they've managed to create an entire ecosystem out of the Kindle format, but what happens when they have to deal with far more general app and compatibility questions?
I don't think this is going to be a deal-breaker, but if you think you're going to need support, especially for specialized apps, you might want to buy a tablet from a company with more experience selling general-purpose devices.
Then there's the question of supporting services. We already discussed Netflix. But what if you want to run Google Apps? What if you want to run DropBox, and that conflicts with Amazon's own cloud services? What if you want to use a Microsoft cloud offering? What if you also want to access movies and music bought from Apple?
If you want to use a service that competes with Amazon, will you be locked out of doing so on the Kindle Fire?
Reason 10: It's not an iPad
Well, you knew this was going to have to be mentioned, didn't you? After all, the iPad is pounding all other tablets into the ground. If you want a unified ecosystem with vast numbers of apps, along with a little snob-appeal, you're probably going to want an iPad, not some hand-me-down retread of the failed BlackBerry PlayBook.
Reason 11: You're going to need cash for the iPhone 5
And there's your penultimate reason. We now believe the iPhone 5 will be announced next week, and you know you're going to want to rush out and buy one. If you spend your money on a Kindle Fire, you might not have enough left to buy the iPhone 5.
Nah, you're a gadget junkie. You'll just get both!
Reason 12: You're going to buy too much from Amazon
Our own James Kendrick has another reason you might not want the Kindle Fire. He contends it'll be just too easy to buy more stuff. He may have a point.
See also: The Amazon Tablet may bankrupt me
I guess the bottom-line is that if you like the Amazon services and pretty much want to be tied down to just that suite of services, you're fine with the Fire.
Otherwise, you might want to wait and see how others like the device.