Kindle Fire-bug Tablet Forecast Caution
Apologies again for the title pun.
Now the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet is official, everyone has set out their view of how well it will do. Almost all of these forecasts are positive.
But all of this analysis has been based on a tiny little assumption: That the product works as described, is quick, elegant and bug free. Ok, it’s not such a small assumption. It’s massive.
At the event yesterday, Amazon controlled access to the Fire. Attendees were not able to test it out free form. Amazon staff showed it, yes, but they also pressed the buttons, browsed the web, scrolled the screen, and played the music and videos. PC World columnist Harry McCracken tweeted about Amazon’s demo control first. Now, Engadget reports it wasn’t able to go hands-on, as do Venturebeat, Gizmodo, and This is my Next and others. Kindle Fire tablet demo videos from the event all have in common Amazon staff holding the Fire, they look similar: see Techcrunch ; WSJ etc. etc.
This lack of access to the Fire this close to launch is suspicious.
By not allowing attendees to try it, Amazon is implying that the current Kindle Fire software is sluggish, buggy, or not yet fully implemented. The last time I saw a tablet shown in this way was behind closed doors at HP’s Mobile World Congress booth back in February. There they showed me the Touchpad but wouldn’t let me use its apps myself. As history records, the Touchpad launch wasn’t smooth. Early buyers complained the software was sluggish and HP killed the whole Touchpad line just 48 days post launch.
The Kindle Fire is seven weeks away from shipping. Amazon has very little time to fix whatever needs fixing, whether that’s software performance, reliability, or content supplier contracts.
If Amazon’s Kindle Fire isn’t the slickly executed product that everyone is expecting then all of the current forecasts are off. Like Apple, buyers expect Amazon’s digital products to be as smooth as Amazon’s mail order customer service. If not, well, Amazon better have a strong version two on the way.
Back when I was manufacturer-side working on handheld devices, friends would ask me when the next one would launch, or why we never published dates ahead of time. They expected me to reply that that information would give our competitors — HP, Microsoft and Palm — too much notice. The truth is, that when working on innovative products the due dates we had internally were never completely solid. They were targets. They could slip if software coding or manufacturing tooling hit hiccups. And, we wanted the freedom to be able to shift dates to make sure what we shipped was a quality product. That was part of our brand. Publishing launch dates weeks ahead would have made us a hostage to fortune. We’d have looked incompetent if we backtracked and later decided to postpone a launch while we fixed the last bugs.
The way Amazon is launching the product is a core part of its strategy. Product strategy has to be end to end to look at the complete picture. If the product ships with bugs then this will be a major failure in Amazon’s strategy for the Fire. It won’t be the guys creating the Fire’s software that will be at fault. But those senior executives that are in charge of the strategy for the Fire and choose to go now with the launch knowing what bits of the Fire, or the content deals that are a key part of it too, that were still to be completed.
Amazon has chosen to set an availability date for Kindle Fire, November 15. Now, to be successful the Fire will have to both ship on time and have no serious bugs or issues. Otherwise, Amazon’s reputation will suffer. Nothing short of a blow out launch will now meet the expectations for the Fire that Amazon has raised.