The Android Dilemma

I want to sell eBooks as much if not more than printed books; they are a continuum, not a discontinuity. Devices like the iPad, Kindle and Nook help move the continuum forward. Despite that vote of confidence, I sense a certain rush to market with the Kindle Fire. It’s a competitive environment and there are certain first mover advantages, especially when the Nook is not standing still. But this rush out the door points to one of the dilemmas in the Android ecosystem. Why do I say this?

  • The Fire is running a decidedly old version of Android (Gingerbread, Android 2.3), which some critics describe as “ho-hum.” I get the sense Amazon wanted more from its signature device, but couldn’t get it in a timely manner, so they went with what they had.
  • Although Amazon has forked Gingerbread with a new UI, performance has been described as underwhelming. David Pogue: Animations are sluggish and jerky — even the page turns that you’d think would be the pride of the Kindle team. Taps sometimes don’t register. Marco Arment: Almost the entire interface is sluggish, jerky, and unresponsive. There is some minor dissent here: Glenn Fleishman writes that a Fire software update mitigates the sluggishness somewhat.
  • These criticisms aren’t unexpected. Here’s what Engadget’s Joel Topolsky said about Gingerbread one year ago: And that’s kind of the crux of our problem with Android in its current state. We don’t question the power of the OS, but the fit, finish, and ease of use simply is still not there. My own testing of last generation Android tablets (Motorola Xoom, running Android 3.0) underscores these findings; the lack of responsiveness was beyond irritating.

One year on and Topolsky is practically gushing about the most recent Android build, Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) : I want to note that moving around all of these screens is buttery smooth. There’s no lag, no stutter. Animations are fluid, and everything feels cohesive and solid.

What a difference a year makes. And this gets to the heart of the Android dilemma: it’s either wait for Google to get it together or forge forward on your own initiative. Amazon couldn’t wait, although word is that 4.0 is the first “good” version of Android. I expect Amazon will transition to Ice Cream Sandwich in due time. The sad thing is that current generation Fire’s don’t have as much flame as they could have. Worse yet, Amazon may have chosen a strategy that forever keeps them at least a generation behind. But Google and Amazon both have some incredible engineers. They might be able to figure this out.

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