Turning up the heat in the tablet war, Apple has unleashed a special treat for iPad buyers. Meanwhile, Amazon's hot new multimedia Kindle is started to feel some critical fire.
Mom, What's a Beatle?: Ostensibly timed to celebrate the recent first anniversary of The Beatles music catalogue's worldwide digital excusivity on the iTunes Store, Apple is now giving away a pretty spiffy eBook version of the Beatles animated film "Yellow Submarine" to owners of iPads, iPhones and iPods who tap in to www.iTunes.com/iBookstore.
A cute way to introduce new generations to the Fab Four (and maybe sell some Beatles music), the book version of "Yellow Submarine" offers a narrated (or read it yourself) version of YS with all the cute, cartoony heroes and villains of Pepperland and a few interactive "touch here" options (mostly brief, tap-to-play clips from the movie.) The text and imagery is optimized for display on the 9.7 inch iPad. Most viewers will thus find it too small to appreciate on the smaller screened Apple devices. A motivator to upgrade?
Of course, my devious mind also wonders if this freebie (I'd call it a $4 value) isn't also a response to all the kid-friendly stuff that Amazon has been giving away to early Fire buyers with its "free app of the day." We're talking $1-$4 values like the iStory Time/Dreamworks eBook "Kung Fu Panda Holiday" voiced by Jack Black and friends, which popped up as the free app on Sunday or the build your own Santa app "Snow Go Kiddo" (from the Go Go Kiddo team) which was nabbable as a freebie last week in the Kindle Fire app store.
The More, The Less Merry?: While selling like hotcakes, second only to the iPad, the Kindle Fire has been earning some critical fire from early adoptors. And today it's being roasted in pieces from Reuters and the New York Times.
The Reuters posting focuses on the downside of the Fire's "one-click" buying functionality, which allows anyone who puts hands on the device to buy an eBook or toy or expensive TV from the Amazon store without first having to enter a password.
Listing a bunch of complaints, the Times piece reads like something that could have been written by the Apple PR department. It found a usability expert with the Silicon Valley-based Nielsen Norman Group who slammed the Fire as "a disappointingly poor" experience and predicted it is "going to be a failure." (Other analysts are estimating three million unit sales for the Fire this quarter)
I agree that the Fire is less than perfection. The lack of dedicated volume buttons (sometimes forcing the user to go into settings to change the level) is particularly vexing. I wish it offered Bluetooth connectivity to wireless speakers.
Also annoying - a newly charged battery only keeps the screen alive for six hours and in standby mode runs down after just a couple days. Oh, and if fully depleted, the device sometimes requires not only a charge but also a "hard reset" (extended push of the power button) to get going again.
But generally speaking, I've found the Fire's operation to be smooth and satisfying and the choice of apps pretty good. You won't find a lot of choices in say, Internet radio or news aggregators. But the one strong app the Fire does have in both categories is a really good one (Tune-In Radio and Pulse, respectively.) For a tablet that sells for 40 percent of what an iPad costs, it offers 60 percent the satisfaction.
And that will only improve. Nobody does internet streaming better than Amazon. Jeez, the company even provides the "backbone" for arch movie streaming rival Netflix. And "in less than two weeks, we're rolling out an over-the-air-update to Kindle Fire," said Drew Herdener, an Amazon spokesman.