Opinion: Why Kindle Fire can't be fixed

You no doubt have seen stories in both the tech and the mainstream media about how Amazon is going to somehow correct the problems with its Kindle Fire tablet/e-reader.

At the risk of Amazon proving me wrong about Fire a second time (more on the first time in a bit), I suggest that Fire, in its current form, can't be fixed.

For instance, Amazon can't send out external volume control buttons to every Fire buyer. The company can't move the bottom sleep switch so you don't keep hitting it accidentally while just balancing it in your hand.

But to me, these are niggling issues. What Amazon won't be able to fix is the heightened expectations it raised in the months prior to anyone actually getting their hands on a Fire — especially in its supposed "revolutionary" Silk mobile Web browser, which turns out to be as revolutionary as a silk hankie.

Remember It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, where an outraged Sally goes cartoon medieval on Linus after sitting all night with him waiting fruitlessly for The Great Pumpkin, and thereby being cheated out of tricks and treats?

That's how I feel about Silk. I feel as if I waited all night for The Great Browser and got nothing but a beagle dressed as a World War I flying ace and acres of insincerity.

Bezos' Brouhaha

At Fire's introductory press event two months ago, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos heralded Silk as a revolutionary new approach to mobile Web browsing, complete with engineer-hosted "how we did it" video that would enable Web pages to instantaneously POP! onto Kindle Fire's screen.

Silk promised to remove the most vexing mobile Web surfing annoyance: latency, or delays in getting your desired Web page to fully load in a timely fashion. These delays are caused by your browser trying to collect all the stuff you find on a modern Web page — graphics and logos, prose text, photos, audio, videos, ads.

All this Web page stuff arrives from dozens of different sources simultaneously, all through the relatively skinny wireless cellular or Wi-Fi connecting pipe. Most Web page delivery follows the old 80-20 rule: most of the page loads quickly, but then the progress bar hangs, and hangs, and hangs, waiting for those last stubborn bits to stagger in.

Silk's surfing acceleration solution: split the Web page loading duties between Fire and Amazon's extensive cloud-based servers. These are the powerful CPUs that know your name, make recommendations for merchandise you may like, tell you what other customers bought, remind you of merchandise you previously viewed, and complete the shopping experience.

Silk's Solution

As we all collectively surf on Silk, Amazon's super servers collect and cache all the elements of each requested Web page and site. So instead of dozens of elements being fed to Fire from dozens of different servers located who-knows-where, Amazon has essentially pre-assembled these pages for you, then sends Silk a single super-charged stream of all the collected page elements.

But wait, there's more.

Since Silk knows these elements are being sent to a relatively small screen on a mobile device through a thin, clogged wireless network, Amazon compresses (or optimizes) everything — after all, you don't need a 5MB photo or 1080p video if a 50KB or VGA version will do.

And we're still not done.

Based on how the collected mobile Web surfing world navigates around particular sites, Amazon predicts where you're likely to navigate to next, and has that page ready to load as soon as you request it.

All this is processed in nano seconds by Amazon's super servers, thus your requested Web page should POP! — appear on Fire's screen a second after you asked for it.

Anyway, that's the theory. You can see why everyone, including me, were drooling over Silk's potential.

Imagine my disappointment when Silk's surfing speed, after all of Amazon's hype, turned out to be barely — average. What the @#$%&?!

Boy, Am I Embarrassed

Well, gee, you're asking, why have I got my panties metaphorically in a wad? It's not as if Amazon is the first tech company to over-hype what turns out to be a disappointing gadget. In fact, that happens more often than it doesn't.

Except, there's an article by me in the current issue of a prominent national magazine lauding Silk as if Amazon had invented Star Trek's transporter — written before I actually got my Fire.

To say I was pissed when Silk turned out to be chintz — I've been spending the last week explaining to people how I'd been bamboozled by Amazon.

Perhaps Silk can be fixed. Perhaps Amazon's servers simply need time to collect and cache all the consumer surfing data from the millions of folks who Amazon says it has sold Fires to in order for Silk to operate as advertised.

Perhaps I'll flap my arms and fly to the moon.

Why the cynicism?

I haven't heard a peep out of Amazon about Silk's real-world split browsing potential, not in advertising, not in PR, not in marketing. It's as if the whole "we'll revolutionize mobile Web surfing" thing never happened.

Silk may be the single most important aspect of Fire that needs to be fixed. But given Amazon's strange silence on the topic, I doubt Silk can be fixed to ever live up to the hype.

And so, I feel like yelling at Amazon as Sally yelled at an embarrassed Linus after a non-Great Pumpkin all-nighter in the pumpkin patch:

"I was robbed!"

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