Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablets seem very good for consumers, but their value for enterprises is mixed.
The three Kindle Fire tablets announced late last month are two HDX models and one minor revision to an existing HD model. The minor revision is for the seven-inch Kindle Fire HD that now includes a slightly upgraded 1.5GHz dual-core processor and a modest 1280 x 800 screen, but with a price tag that will raise a few eyebrows: $139. At that price it's a fine entry level tablet.
The two HDX models sport seven inch and 8.9 inch screens. They offer impressive microprocessors (2.2 GHz Snapdragon 800) and screen resolutions. The seven-inch has a resolution of 1920 x 1200 and the 8.9-inch has a whopping 2560 x 1600 display. Users can opt to purchase the 8.9 inch HDX with an LTE modem.
The seven inch HDX starts at $239 and the eight inch starts at $379. As consumer devices, they seem to be excellent, although we won't know for sure until some start shipping in October. The LTE-equipped models won't ship until December.
But is there anything that makes them useful for businesses? Actually, there is. In fact, Amazon posted a web page describing business features. These include the ability to support device management programs from AirWatch, Good Technology, MaaS360, and SOTI; printing to wireless printers; and a standard OfficeSuite.
Also, there are four "coming soon" features: hardware encryption; a virtual private network client using IPSec, L2TP, and PPTP protocols; access to corporate networks using single sign-on via the Kerberos authentication protocol in Kindle's Silk browser; and using digital certificates with a Simple Certificate Enrollment Protocol.
Some business features are available now with Amazon's forked version of Android -- Amazon's OS 3.0 (codenamed Mojito) -- but more are slated to become available around mid November with the updated OS 3.1.
Perhaps the most impressive new feature is Mayday, an online support service for HDX versions with human tech support specialists available 24 hours a day. Users can see the support person in a little window on the tablet's screen, although the support person can't see the user and can avoid seeing certain confidential user data.
The support person can view almost everything on the screen and change settings, download applications, delete or add files, and draw diagrams to demonstrate how features work. There's nothing like it for any other tablet. Amazon claims Mayday personnel will be available within 15 seconds after a user taps the icon.
If live support is indeed available within a reasonable a period, it could be a godsend for harried IT managers who wouldn't have to be bothered with basic questions. Perhaps Amazon could even offer a paid Mayday service specifically for enterprises.
In addition, Kindle e-readers and tablets have been able to use Whispercast, Amazon's free device management program. The cloud service includes such features as creating user groups; transmitting documents to groups or individuals; transmitting wireless network and proxy settings; requiring specific WiFi password lengths; transmitting applications from Amazon's store; and requiring or blocking WiFi, the browser, Amazon store, and social networks.
Whispercast isn't as sophisticated as many enterprise device management programs, but it could do the job for some groups within companies or small companies with basic IT requirements.
Also, there are tens of thousands of programs in Amazon's Appstore for Android, some of which are appropriate for enterprise use. But that's where problems begin. Even though Amazon has close to 100,000 applications, most aren't optimized for tablets. Apple has more than 375,000 optimized for the iPad. Both the iPad and Android offer much more tablet software enterprises.
Plus, the Kindle Fire and HDX are designed to spark purchases of Amazon products, whether books, music, movies, baby clothes, lawn mowers, or guitars. Enterprises will have to ensure employees aren't using corporate credit cards for personal purchases. Indeed, enterprises with a liberal BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy will have to ensure IT is appropriately managing workers' Kindles.
Despite Amazon's promotion of Kindle tablets for the enterprise, I don't see many being purchased specifically for that role. Apple iPads and Android tablets are more appropriate because they offer comparable specs (more or less) and prices, plus access to the app stores. However, Amazon says Kindles are the second most popular tablet for businesses, so enterprises with BYOD policies must prepare for employees who will bring their own Kindle tablets to work.
— Alan Reiter, President, Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing