Kindle Fire – on the track to become the second most-sold tablet of 2011

Years have passed since Amazon made the first step off the Internet into the real world and introduced its first ever eBook reader, the Kindle – back in November 2007. Since then, Amazon released several devices for this platform, such as the Kindle line and a Kindle DX line with larger screen. However, none of these devices have strayed away from the original model too much, in fact they all feature e-Ink displays. Flash forward to today, Amazon has just launched its first full-color, touch-screen device – Kindle Fire – to offer a great means of entertainment for those who enjoy ebooks, magazines, newspapers and media, or to purchase from Amazon hassle-free.

First and foremost let’s talk about the operating system and the user interface. Amazon’s Kindle Fire technically runs a customized version of Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS, however, it is not the user-customizable home screens you might expect on a Android-powered devices. Instead, the main interface is very simplistic and offers a virtual bookshelf that has two specific places for your content. The upper level is a sweepable list (a carousel) which shows the most recently used items such as your virtual books, magazines, videos, music, websites and apps all together.

The second place – the favorites bar – it is a user-configurable list of shortcuts of the items (app, websites, books, etc.) that you use the most – for quick access. By default, the Kindle Fire has four shortcut buttons pre-installed: the Amazon Store, Pulse (news reading application), and browser shortcuts to IMDb and Facebook. You can rearrange these shortcuts, delete them or add new items – the list grows downward as you add more items.

Along the top of your home-screen, there is a list of content shortcuts which offer a quick jump into Amazon’s store to browse and purchase new apps, movies, music, books, and magazines. If you’re looking to lock and unlock screen rotation, adjust volume, change display brightness, access Wi-Fi settings, syncing, and controlling the playback of music (if a song is currently playing), you can simply tap the gear-like icon in the upper-right corner.

Amazon’s Kindle Fire was designed to be very easy to use and to reach as many consumers as possible. Its operations are very simple and natural, however, taps sometimes don’t register and there is no progress bar to let you know that the device actually registered your action. This is quite annoying, especially when you’re typing. Hopefully, this will be fixed with future software updates. Many other functions like playing games or playback videos are fluid, but you will often encounter stutters while opening or closing certain apps while everything takes a moment to react. Not long, but long enough to notice it.

Hardware-wise, the tablet is powered by a 1 gigahertz dual-core processor and it has has 512 megabytes of RAM – quite a bit, if you ask me. The 1024 x 600 resolution display is bright and colorful, a pleasure to read and play, and the device size makes it easier to carry around. In fact, it fits in big pockets. About the features used on other tablets as a standard these days, the Kindle Fire doesn’t have a few of these. To be more accurate, there is no camera, microphone, bluetooth, 3G or GPS. So, all those who were planning to use the tablet for Skype talks, car navigation, or to take pictures and videos – consider buying some other tablet.

The good:

  • Integration with the (outstanding) Amazon ecosystem of ebooks, magazines, newspapers and media.
  • Good quality, re-purposed plastic tablet with good quality display that is bright and colorful.
  • The feel of the tablet is pretty nice and the rubber back makes it easy to grip.
  • Easy to carry around considering that it fits in big pockets.
  • Battery life runs for about seven to eight hours.

The bad:

  • No Camera, Microphone, Bluetooth or GPS.
  • Not “open” as you may expect from an Android powered tablet, neither customizable.
  • Taps sometimes don’t register so you have to re-tap.
  • The power button is on the bottom, making it easy to turn off the tablet accidentally.
  • There are often stutters while opening or closing certain apps.
  • No hardware volume controls; you have to use a software slider.
  • Only 8 GB of storage space included on the Fire and there is no SD card slot to expand that storage.

Bottom line, Amazon’s Kindle Fire is a decently designed tablet at a unbeatable price ($199) that is awesome for those who enjoy ebooks, magazines, newspapers and media, from a particular ecosystem…Amazon. However, if you’re looking to get a complete satisfying tablet experience, you should search further for a tablet which is smooth, open, and it has a build-in Camera – to video chat, take photos and film your fun moments; Microphone – to talk to your friends via Skype, ooVoo, etc.; Bluetooth - to connect your headset; GPS – to get directions and maybe HDMI – to play games or view your media on external screens.

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Navigating the Mobile Landscape: Ecosystems #2

In the Navigating the Mobile Landscape: Ecosystems #1 article we’ve been talking about why Ecosystems and mobile devices.  The big question that many of you are probably asking is, “ok… so what’s the big deal?  Why do I care about this? What differences does it make if my gadget of choice is part of any kind of an ecosystem?” It’s a good question.  And actually, it’s something that I know many pundits and marketing mavens have been tossing around. Most people, the pundits and mavens included, don’t completely get it.

Let’s break it all down…

Why an Ecosystem Matters at All
Mobile devices that do nothing more than PIM and Sync Services are equivalent to PDA’s of unconnected times past (think back to 2002-2005 and Compaq/HP’s iPAQ line of personal organizers) or are equivalent to one of RIM’s various Blackberries.  While that may not be too bad in some people’s eyes, think about the issues that are currently plaguing RIM, connectivity and outdated architecture aside.

As you may recall, we briefly touched on an ecosystem containing the following:

  1. PIM,
  2. Sync Services
  3. Purchasing Options & Methods for
  • Multimedia Content

- Music,
- Movies,
- TV Shows, etc.

  • Apps
  • eBooks
  • Pictures
  • etc.,

While the PIM and Sync Services are common to all mobile devices today, let’s consider the Apple model again, as we examine the above list.  What’s common to everything in that list..?  Simply put – iTunes.

iTunes manages the PIM data and sync services. It provides a purchasing and organization method for all consumer content. Apple also provides tools to help developers create content and register it with iTunes so it can be sold. This ecosystem is so simple to work with many developers can top 6-figure revenue marks in under 12 months, given the right product subject matter and type. This “no-brainer” product development model saw many developers leaving other, well established SDK’s for iOS development over the past few years.

But that’s been Apple’s model – build the complete solution, for consumers as well as developers – make it easy for them to live within the defined boundaries [of the ecosystem] and they will come. As I mentioned before, this is where the real money is, not in the hardware. Compatible hardware is simply enables the sale of consumer content.

What Amazon Did
Amazon did something similar, but they are trying to emulate, to an extent, what Apple has created by plugging the holes Google left in the ecosystem they created.  Google has the PIM and Sync Services; but doesn’t really have a trusted way to sell consumer content.  Amazon has had a way to sell music for years.  They have recently created a way to sell Android Apps. They’ve recently created a way to provide streaming movies and TV shows (via Amazon Prime). Their Kindle software provides a way to read and purchase eBooks.

I’ve been saying this for years – Amazon should concentrate on the sale of consumer content, not on selling hardware – to make their mark.  They actually did better than that, as the Kindle Fire is now poised to take the number 2 sales spot in the tablet market, but NOT because of the hardware. The Kindle Fire may take that spot due to the hardware sales, but it’s got the sales because of the kinds of content it supports, and what users can do with the device.

What Google Didn’t Do
Google may have a flagship phone in the Galaxy Nexus, but Samsung controls it; and they haven’t really enabled the new OS to do anything more than any other Android smartphone. Google doesn’t want to provide any type of specific experience, or control how you experience Android. They’ve built openness into the platform and have only recently chosen to address some of the holes with updates to Google Books, Google Music, etc.

What they haven’t done, though, is truly created the framework of the ecosystem for all of the OEM’s making and selling hardware. As such, there are a number of different launchers, like TouchWiz from Samsung and SenseUI from HTC. There are a number of different Android builds built into a number of different formats from tablets to smartphones to e-readers. The level of fragmentation that they have allowed by permitting OEM’s to choose from 5 different OS revisions (Éclair, FroYo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich) and their acknowledgement of their lack of revision control is staggering. By permitting 5 different OS revisions to be actively used at the same time, creates a great deal of variation and compatibility issues with applications in the Android Market.

While they may have the lion share of the handheld market, Google’s Android is floundering, struggling for direction. It needs Google to step up and define that direction in order to bring solidity and stability to the platform. If they truly want to beat Apple at their own game, this is what they need to do. Period.

Come back next time, and we’ll try to figure out where the heck Microsoft is in all of this.

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Microsoft Security Essentials for the win

I’ll say this about every security app that is reviewed here on Soft32.com – if you don’t have one, get one.  Surfing the internet isn’t like the CompuServe days of old back in the 1980′s. Dial-up and access numbers aside, the internet is a complicated place with viruses, worms, Trojans, phishing etc. Navigating it while keeping your personal information private and your data secure isn’t always easy.  This is why I really like Microsoft Security Essentials. It’s a anti-virus scanner for Windows, and high on my “must have” list.

Microsoft Security Essentials is built for individuals and small businesses, but it’s based on the same technology that Microsoft uses to protect giant businesses (security products like Microsoft Forefront, the Malicious Software Removal Tool, and Windows Defender). We have a whole team watching for new threats and coming up with ways to squash them.

Microsoft Security Essentials is part of the Windows Live Essentials suite of Windows add-ons from Microsoft.  It runs quietly in the background; and uses a red/yellow/green color coding system to denote system safety. You’ll only be alerted when there are specific actions to take. When you’re away or busy, Microsoft Security Essentials can take the default action on your behalf and you can open the program later to review and undo those actions if you wish.

This is perhaps one of the best anti-virus scanners available on the internet today. Period. Its real time scanning engine and automatic updating make this a strong player to begin with. The fact that its free, and that MS is actively continuing to improve and update it and its malware definitions is awesome.

read full review | download Microsoft Security Essentials

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2011 Gift Guide Part 1 – OK, Great! Now What Should I Buy?

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about mobile devices and ecosystems and the companies that make and distribute them. Let’s take a quick moment and figure out what you should actually buy.

As complicated as this might seem, it isn’t really complicated at all.  We’ll get to specific goodies, next time, but I wanted to take a few moments to talk about how to determine exactly WHAT to buy, given that investing in an ecosystem largely takes you down a specific road, given that you’re likely going to want to mix and match your data on your devices.

What does this mean?

Simply put, if you start a document on your computer, at some point, you may want to shoot it to yourself via email or upload it to your choice of cloud storage (like Dropbox, Windows Live Mesh. iCloud or Amazon Cloud Drive to name a few) so that you can edit it on your laptop or tablet when you get home.  Maybe you stumble upon a bit of brilliance on the way home from work (or where ever you might be) and you stop to take a moment to jot down a few notes in it on your smartphone. A fully functioning, adopted (on your part) ecosystem allows you to do this with your data and your devices. For everything to function this way, its all gotta be connected somehow.

So, again, what should you get?  Here are my recommendations on how to figure this out.

Mac Users
This is probably the biggest no brainer of the bunch; but its not as open as other platforms.

  • Apple Ecosystem: Stick to the Apple ecosystem and iTunes, iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. The desktop tools all have iOS components and partners, and the data you create on your Mac is designed to enable you to work on all of Apple’s devices. You’d be amazed how elegant and simple it is; but then again, you’re stuck there, and you have to want to be stuck for it all to work.

 

  • Amazon Ecosystem: Since Amazon also has developed Kindle software for iOS, users wishing to move to or from parts of the Amazon ecosystem will also find a bridge here. However, since the Kindle Fire is Android based, see the Google Ecosystem, below.

 

  • Google Ecosystem: Trying to implement parts of the Google ecosystem in an Apple/iOS world isn’t going to be easy, so be ready for some challenges. You aren’t going to be using iTunes to sync content to any Android device, and if you’re a Mac user, you undoubtedly have SOME content there.

Windows and Linux Users
Windows users have a few options, as basically all ecosystems are open and available to them. Linux users (and non-iTunes users) can use doubleTwist for media and rely on Exchange or Google Sync for PIM data.

  • Apple Ecosystem: Windows users have been using iDevices for years. The Apple ecosystem is completely open to all Windows users. The only thing you need to insure is that all your iDevices and iTunes have been updated to their latest versions.

 

  • Amazon Ecosystem: Windows and Android go well together. In fact, many Windows users are also Android users and vice-versa.  Amazon has carved itself a very unique corner of the mobile market by introducing its own app store and inking deals with music labels, and movie and TV studios. The content is available through Amazon Prime, and you get a 30 day free trial with the purchase of a Kindle Fire.  Google itself hasn’t been able to nail this bit down yet, so Amazon stands apart as the most complete player in the Android space, despite the lack of an Amazon-branded smartphone.

 

  • Google Ecosystem: Despite recent developments with Google Music and Google Books, Google’s ecosystem is still somewhat disjointed.  For as much money as Google has, they really need to nail this down. Users who go with an Android tablet and smartphone should be able to exchange purchases and data with all of their devices, provided they are compatible. The only difference may be the Amazon App Store, as I’ve not bought any apps there as yet.

In the end, you shouldn’t really try to mix and match Apple and Amazon/Google devices. You’re going to run into too many challenges trying to get the data and content from one to another, especially on the media and productivity sides of things. eBooks are easy, but will require Kindle software to bridge the gap.

Come back next time, and I’ll have specific gift recommendations for your 2011 Holiday Gift recipients.

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Last week’s highlights #4

Last week brought us some interesting software reviews and a synthesis article worth mentioning:

Navigating the Mobile Landscape: Ecosystems

Whether is Amazon with Kindle Fire, Google with Android-powered tablets, and Apple with iPad, the mobile market still holds enough space for other competitors. While Apple still has a huge lead and foothold on the mobile market, I think everyone else FINALLY gets it. Read the full comparison of these three opponents here.

Guitar Pro – a suitable instrument teacher

I’ve been a musician all my life. The guitar is my instrument, and I’ve written a number of songs over the years that I’ve either had to memorize or hand write score or tab for. This is why I’m excited about Guitar Pro. It’s a guitar specific music writing application for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Keep yourself organized with StickyNote

You see them all over the office…Stickies. Stuck to desktops, underneath keyboards, on the side of cabinets, hanging from overhangs, and of course, on computer monitors. They are literally everywhere, and the guy who invented the glue HAS to be like a bazillionaire (or at least should be).  The only problem that you bump into is the one thing that makes them so wonderful – they’re everywhere, and they can create a huge mess. This is why I like StickyNote from Tenebril Software. It’s a reminder program for Windows.

Give voice commands with Dragon Dictate

I’ve been a big supporter of, “you talk, it types” for over 10 years. I remember using IBM’s ViaVoice on my Windows XP powered PC back in 1997. While it was, at times, wonderful to be able to give my arthritic hands a break from the amount of typing I do, its performance issues often prevented the creative process from really flowing the way it should have. Writers write. However, it’s not always easy to do when you have to….speak….very…slowly, and very…exactingly. All that’s changed now; and thanks to Dragon Dictate for Mac, I’ve got my MacBook Pro turning cartwheels.

Fun, addictive and free: Angry Birds

Angry Birds is one of the most addictive games from Rovio today. Not only is it a lot of fun, but it’s available for PC, Android and iOS. I find myself spending, literally, hours of time trying to blow up pigs in some of the ricketiest contraptions and bunkers I have ever seen.

Originally released in 2009 for iOS, Rovio’s Angry Birds decries the pummeling of pork and pork supporters everywhere. While many think that EVERYTHING is better with bacon, these poultry patriots obviously don’t feel that way. Today, you don’t have to have a smartphone, iPad or iPod to play Angry Birds, it’s now available on your computer, and it’s still a lot of fun.

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Guitar Pro – a suitable instrument teacher

I’ve been a musician all my life. The guitar is my instrument, and I’ve written a number of songs over the years that I’ve either had to memorize or hand write score or tab for. This is why I’m excited about Guitar Pro. It’s a guitar specific music writing application for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

You’ll know how to handle the interface in a matter of minutes, easily navigating over its tabs and buttons. For optimal ease in reading, you’ll be able to display your scores as you prefer — full-screen, double-page, or parchment-like, and also display a guitar fret board to visualize the exact positioning of your fingers on it.

Express your talent by creating your own scores in a matter of minutes. You can edit the notes directly on the standard score or on the tablature. In either case, you can capture your notes quickly with the numerical pad, the mouse, or even a MIDI instrument. During playback, the score automatically scrolls, and a cursor highlights the music currently being played. You can adjust tempo, and play all or part of a piece in loops. The Speed Trainer will then let you play any section of the score in loops with progressive accelerations, helping you nail down complex or difficult parts.

All of the effects specific to a guitar, bend, slide, ghost notes, etc., are rendered during playback, as well as the various possible playing styles, pick-stroking, fingerpicking or slapping, for instance.

read full review | download Guitar Pro

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Navigating the Mobile Landscape: Ecosystems #1

Amazon and the Kindle Fire. Google and the Android-powered tablets, and Apple and the iPad. While Apple still has a huge lead and foothold on the mobile market, I think everyone else FINALLY gets it.

Amazon released the Kindle Fire on 15-Nov-11. Barns & Noble released the Nook Tablet a day or so after that. Both tablets run Google’s Android operating system. The Nook is priced at $249 USD. The Kindle Fire is priced at $199 USD.

Apple – The Leader of the Pack

Despite the fact that Apple’s products boast quite a premium price – the Apple iPad starts at $499 USD – they continue to dominate the tablet market, and their share of the smartphone market is improving. The reason why can be summed up in three words – The Apple Ecosystem.

Through iTunes, Apple’s ecosystem hub, users can sync files, PIM data and browser shortcuts. They can buy, rent and load music, video, pictures, eBooks and applications. They can configure and sync all of their content to an online music locker – iCloud – all at once; and all of their mobile devices, the iPad, iPhone and iPod Family products, run the same operating system, giving users a standardized user experience across all of their mobile devices, regardless of price point. All user data is handled in the same way, and can be shared among authorized family users. The devices are also extremely intuitive and easy to use.

It’s taken Apple eight years to establish, create and refine this consumer ecosystem. It’s taken them that long to build and nurture the vendor relationships and to create and provide the developer community with tools that work within this construct. Apple has defined their consumer ecosystem and has established themselves as the undisputed leader in this space. Ask any tech industry analyst or pundit. They’ll tell you that exactly that. Apple is the company to beat.

Google – Always a Bride’s Maid…

Two years ago, I approached Google with this particular issue and outlined a way for them to compete in, if not own, this space. FroYo was coming online, they had recently introduced the Nexus One, and had authorized Samsung to make and distribute the Galaxy S line of Smartphones. Those could have done anything that the iPhone 3GS was doing, and I felt that my idea, if not dead on, was at least on the right track. They had much of the work done, but just needed to pull it together, insure it integrated appropriately and package it up. It would have given them a leg up on the remaining, or up-and-coming, competition.

Google’s verbal response to me was clear – mind your own beeswax.

They stated they were not, Apple, didn’t want or need to be like Apple, and were frankly, smarter than Apple.

Really?

When I asked why then, they or anyone else for that matter, hadn’t been able to crack the digital music player nut, and pointed out that the only real competition – Microsoft’s Zune – had recently been discontinued, I didn’t get a response. They simply ended the dialog.

Interesting how they introduced Google Music, their own online music locker service; and then recently updated it with the ability to purchase and download songs. They’ve also recently added Google Books to their core Android application collection and updated the Android Market to sell not only books, but music as well. Unfortunately, they’re still missing the desktop photo manager/editor integration. Their also missing integration for a couple other components, but I’m certain they’ll get there eventually. They’re going to have to to remain competitive in this space.

You’re welcome, Google. I should probably send you a pretty hefty invoice for the IP.

Amazon – Never mind, Google…We got this.

Early in 2011, Amazon set the world on its ear – quite literally – when it released and made available to the general public, three specific services: Amazon Cloud Drive, Amazon Cloud Player for Web and Amazon Cloud Player for Android. This development was significant in that it was the first instance of a music locker service that did not get seriously challenged by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) or any other music industry organization or coalition. The key was the way music was getting loaded and played. Users could only access any of their music from one location or device at a time, and sharing of any music was strictly a no-no.

The only thing the RIAA could say was a resounding, “yeah, but…”

Score one for the consumer or little guy, who finally got to store their music in the cloud, and literally play the songs they owned from anywhere they could get an internet connection.

In the same month, actually a few days later, they opened the Amazon App Store for Android, offering a free paid app every week. Pairing both of these together, Amazon found a way to get multimedia content to its users, right to their devices. The music content would play and sync with Cloud Drive via Amazon MP3 on the device, and their App Store undercut Google’s store by offering at least 1 free app per week.

Where Apple pulled together the ENTIRE ecosystem – PIM, Sync Services, multimedia content, apps, eBooks, pictures, etc., Amazon gave users multimedia content, apps and eBooks, and then relied upon the Google Android infrastructure for PIM and Sync Services. It’s ingenious actually, as they could then introduce their own devices (the Kindle Fire, for example), and attract users to their content stores. That’s where the real money is.

Amazon realized this, and as such added additional features to its Amazon Prime services, including unlimited video streaming right to your Android device, including their Kindle Fire tablet.

Come back next time, and I’ll pull everything together and help you decide who is REALLY on top of the mobile landscape.

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Keep yourself organized with StickyNote

You see them all over the office…Stickies. Stuck to desktops, underneath keyboards, on the side of cabinets, hanging from overhangs, and of course, on computer monitors. They are literally everywhere, and the guy who invented the glue HAS to be like a bazillionaire (or at least should be).  The only problem that you bump into is the one thing that makes them so wonderful – they’re everywhere, and they can create a huge mess. This is why I like StickyNote from Tenebril Software. It’s a reminder program for Windows.

StickyNote 9.0 is a virtual notes program, and is the only program to offer photo-realistic, 3D notes that look just like stickies you leave on your monitor. Today, you have more information to remember than ever before – passwords, phone numbers, messages, ideas, just to name a few. Managing this information efficiently is important to staying organized. StickyNote provides an easy solution, both at home and at the office.

StickyNote creates photo-realistic 3D notes on your desktop. With a single click, you can attach notes to documents or programs. Important ideas or passwords will never be lost. You can pass notes instantly over the Internet or local network. You can easily make sure phone messages are delivered in the office without ever leaving your chair. The notes pop up right on the recipient’s computer screen.

You can set alarms, set notes to appear at specific times to remind you of important events, and can even set the notes to appear periodically. You can also synchronize your notes with Microsoft Outlook, your Palm handheld or other PDAs.

read full review | download StickyNote

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