Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle Fire tablet computer has been available for just a few days, but some enterprises are wondering whether it could be useful in business.
So far, the Fire looks like an excellent tablet computer for $199, but poor for enterprises.
To be fair, the Fire isn't advertised for business uses, and Amazon is clearly positioning it for content consumption by consumers. But for the price, it's so inexpensive compared to just about every other tablet that it's natural for some businesses to consider whether they might be able to "get by" with the Fire. But sometimes it's better to not "get by," but to pass it by.
The Fire is based on a specialized GUI that overlays the Android 2.3 operating system and is designed to highlight Amazon's content, such as its eBooks, music, videos, and Appstore for Android. With a 7-inch touchscreen and dual-core processor, it's good for many tasks, but it lacks such features as front and rear cameras (so no video calls), a microphone (so no VoIP), 3G (WiFi 802.11b/g/n only), Bluetooth, and GPS.
Also, with only 8GB of internal storage and no SD card slot, business users won't be able to store a large number of multimedia documents. However, Amazon's cloud services allow for document storage and retrieval, if you can access WiFi.
For browsing the Web, the Fire is fine. The WebKit browser integrates Amazon's massive server farms with the company's Silk technology to, supposedly, download pages faster.
So far, the Fire doesn't seem any faster than other tablets' browsers, but it might get better. The reason is that Silk pre-fetches pages based on the preferences of multiple users, and the more people who own Fires, the more preferences Silk aggregates. If many users access The New Yorker's home page and then typically click on the "Editors' Choice" section, Amazon's servers would proactively load that section in the background for faster performance.
Aesthetically, the Fire browser doesn't look much different from the traditional Android browser. Features include tabs, favorites, and easy sharing of Web pages on social networking sites. Third-party browsers from Amazon's Appstore wouldn't include Silk capabilities. Still, other browsers could include features that Amazon's doesn't.
Although some people have been concerned that Amazon's servers could store personal information, even the digital rights organization Electronic Frontier Foundation is "mostly satisfied" about Amazon's privacy policies.
In addition to a good Web browser, business users also want an excellent email program. Amazon bundles a capable program for accessing IMAP and multiple accounts. However, the software won't win any awards for advanced features, or even Gmail capabilities like archiving, conversation views, or managing labels. But I'm sure a variety of third-party Fire-optimized email programs will be available, such as for accessing Microsoft Exchange accounts.
When composing email messages or entering any other text in Fire, the only option is via the Fire's on-screen keyboard. Without Bluetooth, you can't connect a Bluetooth keyboard. The Fire has a micro-USB port (with no USB cable included), but it's not for enabling third-party devices. The port is used for charging the device and also for synchronizing and sideloading content, such as different types of documents (e.g., Microsoft Office files and PDFs). The basic version of Android Quickoffice is bundled with Fire for reading Office-compatible files, but you need to purchase the premium version, Quickoffice Pro if you want to create and edit documents. If you don't want to use Quickoffice Pro, there are other Office-compatible suites in Amazon's Appstore for Android that will do the same thing.
I'm definitely not a fan of on-screen touch keyboards for entering lots of text, especially on 7-inch tablets that have less space than 10-inch tablets. Also, the Fire's space bar is somewhat off-center, so hitting it accurately takes some getting used to.
As a consumer content consumption device, the Fire is priced well at $199. But for businesses and even more savvy consumers who want advanced capabilities in their primary tablet, I recommend paying more for the iPad or certain Android tablets because of the superior hardware capabilities, support for peripherals, and larger selection of applications.
That said, this is just Amazon's first shot at a tablet. Next year, Amazon probably will introduce models with larger screens, cellular modems, and perhaps better features for enterprises. But these capabilities will undoubtedly increase the price, thus reducing one of the major reasons to consider the Fire.
— Alan Reiter, President, Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing