If you visit the home page of Amazon.com, you'll probably see a big blaring advertisement for Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet computer. It's an incredibly popular item this holiday season, says Amazon, and the most popular item to give as a gift in the entire store.
The Fire has only recently started shipping out to customers but already a flood of complaints have been rolling in. Amazon now says it will issue a software update in the next couple of weeks to remedy some of the concerns.
"There are some usability experts who have come out and said that it's very, very hard to use the seven-inch tablet," says Molly Wood, executive editor at CNET.com. "That the browsing experience isn't very good and that the touchscreen is not very sensitive. On the user side, users are saying that it has no built-in parental controls, and that includes not only the ability to filter the web, but ability to turn off one-click buying. So people bought this, got it home and realized that anyone who picks up a Kindle Fire, unless you have set a password on the lock screen, can buy whatever they want."
Imagine handing the device to your kids so they can play a game or watch a movie or something and then a few days later, a huge shipment of toys and video games arrives at your house, billed to your account.
Then there's the hardware itself. The Fire has no external volume button so if you need to crank it up or quickly crank it down, you have to go through the interface of the screen (which we already know has been reported as not very sensitive). Also, the power button on the device is located in such a position that it's easy to turn the whole thing off accidentally.
Amazon may offer an update, but how much of this is fixable through software? "Some of the performance issues can absolutely be fixed with software," says Wood. "Hopefully the touchscreen will be more responsive after that. You may not have the volume problem; some of that is actually fixable with software updates. And hopefully there will be ability to turn off the one-click purchasing or set parental controls. "
As for what can't be patched, "They can't fix the power button, unfortunately," Wood says. "And people have found when you hold the Kindle Fire, even though it's a small tablet, it feels pretty heavy. So I think there's some work to do with the next generation of hardware. Unfortunately they can't do much about right now."
It's a safe bet that whoever is designing the next version of the Kindle Fire will take a hard look at these issues.
Of course, Amazon is not the only company selling tablets and readers. Barnes & Noble's Nook Color reader is getting a new update. This is the $199 e-reader we're talking about, not the $249 Nook Tablet computer. So if I have a Nook Color with update, what do I have? "Congratulations, you now essentially own a Nook Tablet," says Andy Ihnatko of the Chicago Sun Times. "Only you didn't have to buy one for $250. You have access to all kinds of video streaming services now from Netflix to Hulu. If really all you wanted to do was read books, read magazines, get access to video and get access to the Nook tablet app library, you're pretty much set."
So the difference between a Nook Tablet and Nook Color with the update is $50? "$50 and let's be fair, you do get extra storage," Ihnatko says. "It's a much faster processor, so gaming is certainly going to be better on the Tablet than it is on the Color."
And while we're talking about tablets, and take this with however many grains of sand you wish, the iPad 3 is rumored to be coming in February.
Also in this program, comedian Louis C.K. is skipping the middleman in selling his new concert special. Instead of getting it on HBO or Showtime, he's selling it to fans straight from his own website for $5 a pop.
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