The initial reviews for the new Kindle Fire have been fairly lukewarm, many tech pundits pronouncing that the new Amazon tablet will be no iPad killer. That may well be true, although there is already speculation about which device will be hotter this holiday season.
But just how hot will the Kindle Fire be in education?
When Jeff Bezos unveiled the new tablet in September, there were predictions that the device would be enormously popular in education, in no small part due to its competitive $199 price tag. Personally, I was skeptical as I felt as though there were a lot of things -- the focus on Amazon (book) store content, privacy questions about its Silk browser, problems that libraries in particular have had in administering their Kindle accounts, for example -- that I thought would make K-12 schools less-than-thrilled about adopting them.
But it's a different story at the higher ed level. College students, of course, aren't (usually) reliant on schools purchasing their devices. A survey this spring by the National Association of College Stores found that 15% reported owning an e-reader, up from 8% in October 2010. The survey also found that those who read digital materials said they were doing so far more frequently on dedicated e-readers (and/or with e-reader apps on their iPads) than on their laptops.
While they may be interested in e-readers, college students don't seem to be adopting digital textbooks, or rather they're no more apt to use them than they were 3 years ago. That's despite a number of new digital textbook startups and despite some movement on the part of textbook publishers to make their content available that way. Among the reasons students give for not making the move from print to digital textbooks: the difficulty taking notes, the difficulty sharing books, and the lack of cost-savings.
For its part, Amazon has started pushing into the digital textbook market too, unveiling its Kindle Textbook Rental program this summer. It's program certainly doesn't win any high marks for saving students money, but with the advent of a broader lending program for Amazon Prime members and with a joint effort with Overdrive to enable library lending, it's clear that Amazon is pursuing a number of strategies to strengthen its hold on the e-book marketplace.
The Kindle Fire, unlike the iPad however, really doesn't seem to be targeting any aspect of the educational market. There's no educational app category, for starters, and I really doubt we'll see the sort of edu-focused advertising campaign for the Kindle Fire like we did with Apple's "Learn" ad. There's no Inkling app, no Kno app, no Coursesmart app -- not really a surprise as these are all e-textbook apps as well as e-bookstores.
These apps have all tried hard to address some of the problems that college students identify with digital textbooks, particularly in terms of note-taking and sharing. Without these sorts of apps or features available, the complaints that students have about e-textbooks just seem exacerbated, then, on the Fire.
It's definitely a device to consume content, not to create content, and while I realize that was a charge against the iPad that was demonstrated to be quite wrong in the end, the Kindle Fire really does feel like the Amazon store on a piece of hardware. Of course, students do consume plenty of media, and they do a lot more than read textbooks (You can insert your own joke here about their reading any textbooks).
A confession: I sold my iPad earlier this fall. I sold my Samsung Android tablet too. Why? I only used the former to read e-books, to watch Netflix videos on a "second screen," and to test-drive apps to write about in my articles. I felt the iPad was too expensive a device for such infrequent usage, and since getting rid of the iPad, I've managed just fine with reading e-books via my iPhone. But I've long been an Amazon customer and when the Kindle Fire was announced, I pre-ordered one. I kicked myself once I read all the initial reviews and contemplated canceling my order, but My Kindle Fire arrived today and now that I have the device in hand, I'm still not sure what to make of it. I'll probably enjoy doing my leisure reading (let's pretend, for a moment, I have time for that) on the device. It fits nicely in one hand, something that the iPad couldn't do. Sure, it's not as sleek as the iPad. Like some reviewers have pointed out, it's thicker and heavier than you might imagine, the operating system doesn't run that smoothly or intuitively, and there's an on-off button (which I can't help but frown about having just finished reading the Steve Jobs' biography.)
I sort of wish I'd bought the Kindle Touch instead of the Kindle Fire, frankly. But at $199, I still think lots of college students will opt for the new Amazon tablet. Nonetheless, let's not fool ourselves into thinking that that will make the Kindle Fire an educational tablet.