No, the Kindle Fire isn't doomed

The honeymoon for Amazon's tablet is over, but history suggests that there's a strong chance the company will get it right over the long haul.

Before anyone could buy a Kindle Fire, Amazon's tablet benefited from a certain degree of magical thinking.

People--or at least tech pundits--were searching for the first irresistable non-iPad tablet. They wanted to see one that deserved to be a big hit. So, many hit a mental fast-forward button and assumed that the Kindle Fire would be that tablet.

Amazon Kindle Fire
Amazon's Kindle Fire. Amazon.com

But the Fire's honeymoon ended the moment it hit the market. Many of the initial reviews weren't raves. And now The New York Times has published a story about the Fire by David Streitfeld that dares to mention the Edsel, New Coke, and other icons of product failure. While Streitfeld emphasizes that underestimating Amazon would be a mistake, he quotes Fire-hating usability expert Jakob Nielsen, mentions bugs and glitches such as the balky touch interface, and points out that a third of the Fire user reviews on Amazon.com itself are less than glowing.

And at the same time that the Times is giving the Fire some tough love, Mitch Lipka of Reuters is reporting that the device's 1-Click ordering for movies, music, and books makes buying stuff so easy that even people other than Kindle Fire purchasers--such as kids and thieves--can do it.

The current Kindle Fire backlash is stinging enough that it might leave you wondering: Is there any chance that Amazon's tablet is doomed to suffer the same sad fate as HP's TouchPad and RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook? Both of those gadgets had potential, but they were saddled with buggy software and bad design decisions. The TouchPad is officially dead; the PlayBook is pretty much a dead tablet walking.

Despite the gloomy tone of current Fire coverage, I remain an optimist about Amazon's entry into the market for full-blown tablets. And I'm upbeat for one particular reason: I remember the original Kindle e-reader which debuted a little over four years ago. (I reviewed it at the time.)

The 2007 Kindle
The 2007 Kindle. Amazon.com

I didn't love that initial model, for a bunch of reasons. It had flagrant bugs. Its gigantic page-turn button was so hyper-sensitive that it was hard to pick the device up without accidentally flipping forward in your e-book. It had a laughably lousy Web browser. Did I mention that it was truly ugly?

None of the original Kindle's multiple flaws ruined Amazon's e-reader initiative. In part, that was because it got the service aspect of the proposition--digital books, downloadable in seconds--so right. But it was also because Amazon worked as hard after it announced the Kindle as it did beforehand. It quickly fixed the bugs and released new e-readers that were much better than the first model. If it hadn't, the product line might not have survived long enough to lead to today's Kindle Fire.

Amazon told the Times that it's readying a software update for the Fire that should be out in a couple of weeks. Everyone seems to agree that it's also working on a larger Fire for release in the not-too-distant future. Once the company has patched up the current model and revealed the new one, it'll make sense to firm up some impressions about the Fire line's long-term future.

For now, mentioning the first Kindle Fire in the same breath as the Edsel is even more of an overreaction than assuming that it was going to be an instant blockbuster. With tech products, following through on a product's promise is at least as important as getting things right in the first place--and Amazon, unlike some of its tablet-making rivals, has a strong record when it comes to doing just that.

 

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