Kindle Fire tablet to get software updates

December 13, 2011

When the Kindle Fire was first unveiled by Jeff Bezos earlier this year, many analysts said it be the first tablet to present a real challenge to Apple’s iPad. However, now it seems some customers are dissatisfied with the device, according to Hayley Tsukayama:

The Kindle Fire is reportedly on track for a major software update in the next couple of weeks, and apparently not a moment too soon. According to a report from the New York Times, Amazon has been fielding complaints from disgruntled buyers. Even with a promised update, the complaints from some of the device’s most vocal users may not be easily fixed, because they involve hardware as well. Here are the top five complaints from users giving the tablet a one-star rating on its own Amazon page.

1) No hardware volume controls: This is a major problem for many Kindle Fire users, who find it very user-unfriendly to have to use software controls to control the sound levels for their video and music. No software update will be able to make a button that isn’t there, sadly, so this is a feature that will stick around until the next version of the device hardware.

2) Buggy touchscreen: Users have said that the Fire’s touchscreen is, at times, not very sensitive to the touch. The more vocal critics have said that they need to tap the screen two or three times to perform any action — something that other users aren’t seeing with their devices. Still, Amazon has specifically called out improved multitouch support for the next update, which could ease some of those problems.

3) Slow browser: Amazon’s Silk browser was all the more disappointing because Amazon promised that it’s half-in-the-cloud processing system would make Web browsing lightning fast. Instead, the browser has shown that it’s essentially on par with browsing on other tablets, if not even slower. Amazon has said the browser is supposed gain some speed thanks to its ability to learn your Web surfing habits, but users may not be willing to input the data to get the promised pickup.

4) Lack of privacy: One thing that Amazon will be able to fix with its software update — and has promised to remedy — is the lack of privacy inherent in the Fire’s Carousel interface. Because of the way that the interface is organized, a users’ entire activity history is immediately visible when anyone picks up the device. So anyone who picks up a device that you’ve left on the coffee table will be able to see your reading or other device history. With the new update, the report said, users will be able to edit those histories.

5) Location of the power button: The power button on the Kindle Fire is in the same spot as it is on other Kindles — at the bottom — but the Fire’s power button is particularly situated in a way that makes it all-too easy to turn the device off inadvertently. The location of the power button can’t be fixed with a software update either, unfortunately.

In response to the complaints, Amazon plans to implement some changes. Hayley Tsukayama reports:

The honeymoon period for the Kindle Fire appears to be drawing to a close as reports of customer complaints about the device’s Web browsing, touchscreen and other features have surfaced after the initial excitement about the tablet’s low, low price.

To address some of those concerns, Amazon is planning to push out an update to its Kindle Fire user interface in the next two weeks, the New York Times reported. The company has already updated the software for its tablet a couple of times, promising improvements to the tablet’s performance — and getting rid of root access to the device.

The new update will reportedly improve overall performance (again) and make some improvements to multitouch navigation, the report said. The update will also reportedly give customers a little more privacy by allowing them to edit their recent activity.

The report also hinted that Amazon will be rolling out a new device in the coming months, likely in the spring.

Last month, Amazon announced it would launch thousands of apps for the Kindle Fire in an effort to compete more strongly with Barnes and Noble’s Nook tablet. Hayley Tsukayama writes:

The apps will include access to Netflix, a selling point that Barnes and Noble highlighted with its launch of the Nook Tablet earlier this week.

Other apps available through Amazon’s curated version of the Android market will include Facebook, Pandora (also a Nook partner), Rovio, PopCap, Zynga and Gameloft, all powerhouses for mobile consumption.

In a press statement, Kindle vice president Dave Limp said that the new apps were “only the beginning -- we’re adding more apps and games every day across all categories.”

The Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet are set to compete head-on for consumers looking for cheaper tablets that focus on reading. At $199, the Kindle Fire has the price advantage, though the Nook has more memory and has been designed with a more reader-friendly screen. On the other hand, the Fire is aimed at being more of an all-in-one device for mobile media, providing access to Amazon’s extensive retail ecosystem.

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