I officially love the Kindle Fire

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I’ve been a gadget nerd for close to forever now. Most of the time, I’m carrying an iPod Touch in one pocket, a BlackBerry in another and my laptop in my bag. I actually own three laptops, an iPad and a desktop. I’ve got a DS, a Wii and an Xbox 360 (with Kinect, thank you).

My newest and most favorite gadget is the Kindle Fire. It has joined the elite group of gadgets I carry with me at all times, and I use it more than any other gadget in my collection.

If you’re wondering whether you should get one, the answer is yes.

Here’s what I love about it:

1. No Apple. My biggest frustration with the iPad and iPod Touch is Apple, and my inability to do what I want with my devices. I can’t understand Apple’s app approval process, either. While we’re told it is to ensure we get the best apps, the App Store is chock full of garbage. The Kindle has a different master — Amazon — but I’ve been in Apple land so long that it just feels good to get out.

2. Android. The Kindle Fire runs a heavily modified version of Google’s Android operating system. It’s easy to use, responsive, and generally makes lots of sense. The Kindle doesn’t seem to get bogged down and clunky the way early-gen Android phones did. After a few days of interacting with the Fire, iOS started to look its age — old and outdated, by tech standards.

3. Form. The Kindle Fire is the perfect size. I’ve spent quite a lot of time going from iPad to iPod, frustrated that one is too big and the other is too small. The iPad is just too heavy and bulky and slippery to be used comfortably as a reader. And playing games that require two hands in nearly impossible. The iPod Touch is nice for playing some games, but too small to be a reader. I use my devices often for Netflix and YouTube. While Netflix looks great on the iPad, you need to prop the iPad up or suffer carpal tunnel syndrome. The iPod Touch is so small that you’ll need to hold it fairly close in order to enjoy what you’re watching. The Kindle fire, however, can be comfortably held in one hand at a distance that isn’t awkward. In addition, the non-slip back on the Kindle Fire makes it easier and more comfortable to hold.

4. Amazon. If Apple’s iTunes and App Store have any competition, it’s Amazon. The Amazon Marketplace includes apps, music, movies, books — in short, all the media you care to consume is right there for the taking. And there’s plenty of free content as well, especially if you’re an Amazon Prime member. The Kindle makes it easy to shop Amazon for non-digital items, too.

5. Price. Without a doubt, the Kindle is the best value on the market. Yes, it’s less powerful than the iPad. It’s smaller, it doesn’t have the fancy screen resolution, and it isn’t made by Apple. But at $200, you can get two Kindle Fires for the price of one low-end iPad, and still have $100 left over. Better yet, consider the annual updates Apple makes to the iPad. If you were to buy a new iPad each year for five years, you’d shell out $2,500. Five Kindle Fires? $1,000. Considering that this is the first edition of the Kindle Fire, I have to assume there are many improvements to come. Frankly, I don’t mind dropping a couple hundred dollars each year to get a new Fire. An iPad? It just isn’t worth the money.


It isn’t all roses, however. Here are a few things I dislike about the Fire:

1. Amazon. I really dislike being locked into any single ecosystem, which is why I’m one of the few dinosaurs who still carries a BlackBerry. I enjoy tinkering and playing with free apps found out in the wild. I’m smart enough to mess with my devices without messing them up. I don’t want to have to jailbreak a device in order to get it to do what I want. Amazon’s decision to lock the Kindle into its own ecosystem, for me, causes problems like….

2. Access. There’s no Facebook app for the Kindle Fire, but the Fire comes loaded with a nifty Facebook icon right on the home screen — cleverly added to your favorites — that links you to Facebook’s mobile site. There is, however, a Facebook app for Android. Unfortunately, you can’t get it, because it isn’t in the Amazon Marketplace. But there’s a Twitter app, which works quite well. The problem here is that Amazon obviously picked a favorite by including Facebook in the favorites, even though there’s no dedicated app available. And Facebook, thinking you’re running a regular Android device, prompts you regularly to download its Android app — which doesn’t exist on the Marketplace, and therefore can’t be installed. Amazon needs to fix such things. To me, this is clearly the biggest frustration.

3. Options. There really needs to be a 3G option here. I generally use my Kindle at home, but I’d love for it to be more portable. Unfortunately, when I’m on the go, I find myself forced to reach for my BlackBerry for Internet access, when I’d really like to grab the Fire. That being said, I could easily get around the problem with a mobile hotspot — which is likely what I’ll do.

4. Carousel. I don’t even know what it’s supposed to do. I thought at first that it was for negotiating through open programs. It seems, however, to be a running history of what you’ve recently had open. That’s okay, but I’d like the ability to change its function, so it doesn’t keep everything. If there’s already a dedicated link (like the web) or there’s already a favorite, why clutter up the carousel with those things? It looks neat, but functions…meh.


Anyone who is in the market for a tablet needs to understand an important point: Tablets are for consuming, not creating. A tablet is a great device to use if you’re watching video, surfing the net, reading a book, playing games. But it is a miserable device to use for actually working on. Typing on the iPad or Kindle is awful. Both have unfortunate autocorrect issues. Both are uncomfortable and inefficient. Both are terrible for editing text. But neither is truly meant for that. They’re meant to be used for consuming information, for flipping through photos, for reading. Apple markets the iPad otherwise, but I can’t imagine editing a book or writing anything longer than a short email on an iPad. Drawing? Maybe. Creating music? Perhaps. But most humans don’t work in creative fields; standard office work with a tablet is not a good time.

So that’s my take on it. If you want a tablet, go with the Kindle Fire. Simple as that.



Initial impressions: iPod Touch

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You may recall my iPod Touch debacle several months ago. After a little wrangling, it turns out the iPod was, after all, in need of a part Apple no longer has. So I was fortunate enough to get a nice check to put toward a brand-new iPod (or anything else I wanted).

I decided to wait for the newest iteration of the iPod touch — you know, the one with the camera, the Retina display and iOS 4. I picked one up Saturday and I’ve spent the weekend with it. My initial reactions follow…

Retina display
Obviously, this is the first and biggest thing Apple’s pushed for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Supposedly the best and most beautiful display ever on such a small device. My take? It’s okay. Yes, it’s pretty. Images are bright and sharp. But as I suspected, the Retina display is nearly unnecessary on such a small device. It doesn’t really add enough to the iPod experience to warrant the hype. Pretty, yes. Essential, no.

The dual cameras are the second biggest additions. I’ll admit it’s cool to have a camera and video camera in my pocket at all times. Problem with it is I already have both on my BlackBerry, so it becomes a bit redundant. I haven’t spent any time with the video editing capabilities, but I do a lot of video editing on the PC already. And I’m likely to continue doing so.

First of all, I think Facetime is a great idea.  If you really want to see the person you’re talking to, Facetime will let you do that. But, as we’ve grown to expect from Apple, it doesn’t integrate with other video chat applications, such as Skype. That’s a shame. I’d much rather Apple can Facetime and run a really great Skype app. I can’t use Facetime because I have no friends on iPod Touch or iPhone…that sorta renders it useless to have.

Yes, the new  iPod Touch is faster and runs smoother than the old version. As always, it’s a pleasure to use on its own. There’s really not all that much to say here…we expect Apple products to work. It does. My old iPod Touch was my go-to gadget for that very reason. This one is every bit as good. But that’s really not good enough.

Bottom line
I like the iPod Touch. I really do. Over the summer, however, I learned to live without it. And I replaced the iPod Touch — at least most of it — with the BlackBerry Torch, which gives me web browsing that’s just as good, an e-mail experience that’s better, a slide-out QWERTY keyboard that makes input way easier, and comparable YouTube surfing, media playback and more. Plus it makes phone calls.

The other thing I didn’t miss about the iPod? iTunes. Immediately upon plugging in the new iPod, I remembered just how much I detest the iTunes experience. Get this: On the BlackBerry, I can drag and drop files onto my media card, using the device as a drive. And they just show up where I want them. Though I can use media management software, it is not necessary. I couldn’t do a single thing on the new iPod without iTunes. And synching the apps I’d previously purchased was a nightmare — some 40 apps needed updating, and Apple wouldn’t let me download the updates without signing in with my Apple ID. Several of the apps had been removed from the app store, so I continue to be notified that they need updating, only to get another notifier that they can’t be found. And, as always, iTunes is so bloated and bulky that I’m running it on an old Windows XP machine with almost nothing else on it — it’s my iTunes machine — and iTunes brings the poor beast to its knees every time it launches.

Time will eventually tell if the iPod Touch finds its way into the same place in my daily routine that it used to have. For now, I feel the improvements are too slight to make it work the upgrade. And with the exploding smartphone market, Apple needs to step up its game if it intends to use iPod Touch as the cornerstone of its media player market.

What the Apple Genius Bar taught me about customer service

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I admit it: I’m addicted to my iPod Touch. I love having a tiny computer in my pocket. I love having the ability to check baseball scores, surf the net, watch YouTube videos, monitor my e-mail, plus listen to music and watch video any time I want. If I’m bored, I can fire up a game of Fruit Ninja and I’m good.

A couple of weeks ago, I awoke to find my beloved iPod dead. It wouldn’t turn on at all. The battery was at 75 percent the night before, so I was surprised, but not alarmed. I figured the battery had drained overnight. No big deal. I plugged it in to charge, took my shower, got dressed for work. But when I went to grab the iPod, it wasn’t charging. It was still dead, though now hotter than blazes from being on the charger for the past hour.

I tried charging it in the car and at work. No dice. It wouldn’t do anything. It was a brick. The computer didn’t even recognize that anything had been plugged in. Heartbroken and frantic, I went online. I googled. And googled. And I found that I wasn’t alone…the web is teeming with iPod Touch issues. And no solutions that I could find.

So I checked Apple’s website. I tried everything it suggested. Still no luck.

I’ve heard for years the talk of Apple’s legendary customer service, so I figured I’d give it a try. Maybe call someone, find out if it’s a known issue with a quick fix. But after logging in, I was informed my iPod was no longer under warranty. A phone call from a “Genius” (the supposedly know-it-all help desk folks) would cost me $29 — not to fix the problem, but for the phone call itself. That’s $30 just to talk to someone, with no guarantee that they can help at all.

No thank you. I decided to go to the local Apple store and talk to a real-live “Genius.” It’s not far from my office, so I figured I’d drop by on my way home from work. I talked to a polite young man who informed me I had two options: Wait an hour and a half for the next appointment or schedule an appointment for later. Now, all I wanted was for someone to listen to the symptoms and tell me whether it was fixable. But, alas, they wouldn’t talk to me unless I waited or scheduled an appointment. I left.

On Monday I made an appointment. I got there early, and again was met by a nice young man. As I expected, the appointment lasted fewer than five minutes. He plugged the iPod in. He shined a flashlight into the  ports. He cleaned the ports and plugged it back in again. The verdict?

“It’s fried,” he said. “We can’t do anything with it.”

He told me the problem is not uncommon. And since it’s three months outside the warranty, he offered me two choices: I could buy a used one for $100 or I could buy a new one, and they’d happily give me 10 percent off.

Ten percent? My iPod Touch is the 16 gb model, which Apple no longer makes. If I buy a new one, I can get the 8 gb version for $199 or the 32 gb for $299. So I save either $20 or $30 — a small (very small) attempt to make up for a product that failed long before what I considered life expectancy. I told him I’d think it over. See…I’m not about to spend $300 on a device I know will be outdated this fall, when I expect Apple to release a new iPod Touch that comes with a camera or two and supports all the bells and whistles of the new iPhone.

I also remembered that the iPod was a gift from my parents, who wisely purchased it with an extended warranty from the store (not Apple). I made a couple of phone calls and was put in touch with a CSR. She took down some information, but couldn’t find a record of my warranty. What she said next, though, surprised me.

“I’m sending you a UPS label,” she said. “Just send the iPod in and we’ll have it back in seven to 10 days.”

“I’m sorry…what?,” I asked. “I thought you didn’t have any record that I have a warranty.”

“That’s okay,” she answered. “We’ll take your word for it.”

“So…I send it to you and you tell me what it will cost to fix it?”

“No. You send it to us and we send it back when it’s fixed.”

At that point, it seemed like my last best hope. So I mailed it in, free of charge. Four days later, it was returned. I plugged it in. It came on, charged up and worked…almost.

I noticed trouble connecting to WiFi, and the battery seemed to be draining quickly. The next day, I called a number they’d provided. They didn’t put me on with a CSR this time…they put me on with the guy who actually did the work. We chatted briefly and agreed I’ll send the iPod back. His promise? He’ll have it in perfect working order before I get it back again. But he told me a lot more than that.

He told me he’s surprised at the number of iPods he fixes after Apple Geniuses tell customers they’re beyond repair. In one such recent case, and Apple Genius told a customer they’d need a new iPod because music would only play through one side of the headphones. Corey fixed it in minutes, just by soldering the headphone jack.

So here’s what I learned about the Genius Bar: It’s a sham. Apple Geniuses aren’t really there to fix your problems. They’re certainly not real technicians who, as Apple claims, know your product inside and out. In fact, they’re the Apple equivalent of the Geek Squad. And their goal is to fix your issue by selling you something else. Sure, while I was at the Apple store, another Genius was helping an older man sync his iPod with iTunes and led him through the process. But that’s simplistic help. It isn’t the line we’ve been sold.

Apple’s customer service model is pretty easy to dissect: It’s based on marketing, not talent. Like Best Buy, Apple markets Geniuses as highly trained technicians who can help with any problem. If you’re under warranty, that’s easy — they give you a new one. If you aren’t under warranty, that’s easy too — they tell you to buy a new one. There’s nothing technical about that. But people leave the Apple store feeling content anyway. Why? Because they believe they had no choice but to spend $300 on a new iPod. A Genius told them that was the only solution.

In my case, the Genius was either lying or flat-out wrong. Not only was the iPod not fried and not beyond repair, it only needed one simple part — a battery. Apparently, that simple fix took more than a Genius to figure out.

How Adobe should have responded to Apple

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Adobe has finally come out with its official response to Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ now-famous Thoughts on Flash blog post. In reading it, one gets the sense the Adobe is very angry, but fears defending itself. Instead of the milquetoast response, Adobe should have gone point by point to counterattack Jobs’ claims.

Since Adobe won’t, I will.

1. First, there’s “Open”. Jobs says Flash is 100 percent proprietary, and therefore doesn’t fit into Apple’s version of what the Internet should be. And though Jobs admits Apple has proprietary products, he doesn’t admit that the vast majority of Apple’s products are proprietary — so proprietary, in fact, that Apple’s license agreements don’t allow users to run Apple’s operating system on anything but an Apple computer. And Apple has updated iTunes several times to keep users from synching the Palm Pre to iTunes. Jobs cannot argue that he is now or ever has been a proponent of “open.”

2. Second, there’s the “full web”. In answer to the claim that iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users don’t get the full web, Jobs responds by ignoring the point. He says there are plenty of places to get video from, and that although Flash games aren’t playable on his devices, there are plenty of games available in Apple’s App Store. Perhaps. But he ignores the large volume of rich content residing on the web that was built in Flash. Not just videos and games, but whole websites, advertisements, photo galleries and more. On the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad, you’re barred from that content — not because it isn’t possible, but because Steve Jobs has decided it isn’t necessary.

3. Third, there’s reliability, security and performance. Jobs says Flash is full of security holes and bugs, and therefore not trustworthy. Know what else is full of security holes? Mac OSX. As was recently widely reported, Macs are more susceptible to viruses than PCs. Fortunately for Apple, market share is still so low that malware developers just don’t bother writing malicious software targeting Macs. Jobs says Flash is the number one reason Macs crash. That surprised me, particularly because I’ve heard that Macs never crash. But if we take Steve on his word, wouldn’t that make Apple partly responsible? Wouldn’t the team at Apple want to figure a way to work with the plugin and create a more stable OS?

4. Fourth, there’s battery life. Jobs says using Flash will drain batteries. Again, Jobs defaults to the video argument. Frankly, I don’t disagree that video is better served in h.264, and if that means longer battery life, all that better. But Apple could better serve its customers by allowing customers to control their own experience. If it means battery drain, so be it. The user learns something. But the bigger point — getting the full web — wouldn’t be a substantial draw on battery life. Video here is the straw man set up to redirect attention from the essential parts of the web that are missing.

5. Fifth, there’s Touch. Jobs says much of the content developed in Flash does not interact well with touch devices. For that, he blames Flash. But I believe the opposite is true. Flash was around long before the iPhone. The fact that Apple hasn’t figured out how to handle simple things like rollovers is not Adobe’s fault. In fact, it shows a huge lack of understanding about how people use the web. It isn’t the Internet’s responsibility to live up to Jobs’ vision; it’s Apple’s responsibility to deliver the content people are looking for — whether Jobs like it or not.

6. Sixth, the most important reason. Jobs says Apple won’t let iPhone and iPad developers build apps in Flash because it will lead to clunky, slow, bloated and substandard apps. And, according to Steve, it’s important to protect the user experience. In response, I’ll say that I own an iPod Touch. I use it daily. I’ve downloaded plenty of crappy apps that crash and freeze, games that nag you to buy the full version or just don’t work at all. And if Jobs wants to talk about bloated, slow, substandard apps, he needs look no further than the PC version of iTunes. Without a doubt, it is the absolute worst, clunkiest, slowest piece of software I have ever run. Ever. Even last night, it halted the download of my daily podcasts and would not resume the downloads. I couldn’t even close iTunes without using my Task Manager. The point is that Jobs is only concerned with user experience when it suits him…and it suits him in this case because his team can’t figure out how to get the iPhone to run Flash.

Bottom line: Adobe was essential to Apple’s rise from near death a decade ago. Products like Flash, Photoshop and Illustrator were (and are) considered standards for the creative class that kept Apple afloat. Apple owes it to Adobe to be more open, more cooperative, more forgiving, than perhaps it would be with any other company.

If I were running Adobe, my response would have been more simple, more direct, and have greater impact: I would announce that Adobe is no longer developing Mac OS versions of its products, because Mac OS is not open, Apple does not support the “full web” on its products, Macs are too vulnerable to security breaches, Apple’s mobile devices do not offer sufficient battery life, Apple product developers don’t understand the way users interact with the Internet, and Apple doesn’t care about user experience.

I’m sure the Windows crowd would accept that in a heartbeat.

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