The Kindle Fire and Developer Experience

Update Note: This article was first drafted before Amazon announced that there would be a way to purchase your way out of the Kindle Fire lock screen ads.  An effort has been made to remove references to the ads being mandatory.

Amazon made something of a splash this week with three new versions of its Kindle Fire Android tablet. The original Kindle Fire was something on an enigma to me: in a lot of ways it’s a bad product and the only virtues it had was that it was two hundred dollars when the standard tablet price was (and pretty much still is) five hundred dollars and that Amazon had (and still has) a pretty good ecosystem. These new models seem to be aimed at fixing a lot of the issues found in the original; slow reaction times to user interactions, poor scrolling performance, and generally inconsistent / jagged animations. I have not been able to test the (to date, yet to be released tablet) myself but would love to give it a shot first hand; Amazon if you’re out there, call me. Let’s assume that for the sake of argument those performance issues have been resolved in these new models. All of the new Kindle Fire models are reported to have built in OS level ads. That means that ads will be shown on the lockscreen and possibly elsewhere. Any fan of user experience (especially those who appreciate Apple style design / UX will see that as a possible deal breaker. Amazon has just announced that these ads can be removed with a fifteen dollar upcharge.  The issue I would like to discuss is not the built in OS level ads, but rather what impact Amazon has been having on the mobile developer ecosystem: developer experience if you will.

I know that Joe user may not mind seeing a bunch of ads on his lockscreen, but my concerns, as I’ve mentioned before, are more for the ecosystems as a whole rather than for the individual user, though it follows that a deterioration of the an ecosystem would eventually affect even the most casual of users. Apple has managed to change the software industry and commoditize software to the point where even selling an app for $0.99 is challenging. Now with these new devices Amazon aims to build on that by commoditize tablet hardware. In this new world that Apple blazed the trail for and Amazon hopes to push further into content is king, not apps.

Amazon isn’t too shy about this. To their credit, they push the Fires as ‘media tablets’ primarily and are quicker to push their growing video content libraries and large Kindle e-book library. Additionally, they’ve done some good things for app developers in the past: they offer effective DRM for the piracy concerned, a great infrastructure for app backends for app developers to connect their apps to, and the offer powerful in app purchase API’s. However, they also done some harm: they’ve followed Apple’s lead regarding commoditizing apps and their ‘free app of the day’ promotion is not as good for developers as you might think. Worse still, in discussions with ‘normal’ Kindle Fire users (original) I know, it has become clear that Amazon is seen as the place to get free apps, not pay for quality software.

On the other hand the Amazon App Store has proven to be the better market for Android developers to generate revenue when compared with Google Play. Does revenue trump all? I don’t know, but it would seem that Amazon is in no rush to end the race to the bottom on app prcing.

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