Why the new Amazon Kindle Fire isn’t ideal for construction inspections

Amazon's Kindle Fire

On Wedenesday, September 28, Amazon announced a new tablet – the 7-inch Kindle Fire. Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, put on his best Steve Job’s impersonation for the announcement, which also included updates to the entire Kindle line. The most amazing detail of the Kindle Fire has to be the price: $199. Will this replace the iPad as the tablet of choice for construction inspections?

No. Let me explain…

The iPad 2 vs. the Kindle Fire

For construction inspections (home inspections, property condition assessments, reserve studies, forensic investigations, quality assurance observation), the most important requirements are usability, battery life and wireless communication.

  1. Usability – In terms of usability, the iPad’s screen size seems to be just about perfect for construction inspections. Slightly smaller than a letter-size piece of paper, the device remains lightweight, despite the large screen. The Kindle Fire weighs about 1/3 less than the iPad, and has a 7-inch screen. Looking at floor plans or construction details on a 7-inch screen is going to be taxing for some of my colleagues with less than 20/20 eyesight.
  2. Battery life – Since the Kindle Fire is smaller than the iPad, that also means less room for the battery. According to Amazon’s technical details, with wireless turned off, the device will support up to “8 hours of continuous reading.” Reading from a tablet generally uses less power than interacting with the user interface. The iPad’s 10-hour+ battery, unlike the Kindle Fire, should easily last through an entire day of inspections.
  3. Wireless – This, to me, is the real deal-killer. The Kindle Fire only supports WiFi, whereas the iPad supports 3G cellular connections on either AT&T or Verizon. Unless your job site has an open WiFi network, you’re going to run into problems accessing and synchronizing data.

Some advantages for the Kindle Fire

The main advantage the Kindle Fire has over the iPad is durability. According to Amazon:

Our state-of-the art Kindle Fire display is chemically strengthened to be 20 times stiffer and 30 times harder than plastic, making it extra durable and resistant to accidental bumps and scrapes.

That sounds a whole lot better than the scratch-prone and crack-prone glass iPad screen. Construction sites and delicate glass screens don’t mix particularly well.

Another advantage that one could argue the Kindle Fire has over the iPad, is the support of Flash. Personally, I am 99% fine without Flash.

What’s the Point?

Much more so than the iPad, the Kindle Fire is clearly marketed as a content consumption device. Although the iPad isn’t going to replace a computer for writing reports, filling in spreadsheets, doing take-offs, and managing large media files (photos, video, etc.), it handles a lot more content creation than I anticipated before I actually spent time with one. I can now type fast enough on the iPad that it is my note-taking tool of choice. I can also make minor edits to word processing documents, mark-up PDFs, and have created decent looking presentations – all using just my iPad 2. While I haven’t used the camera on my iPad except to test it out, the absence of a camera on the Kindle Fire confirms my assessment.

Where I think that the Kindle Fire will really take off, is for kids. I may be the exception to the rule, but I prefer the Kindle app on my iPad for reading over Apple’s iBooks app. And, I still love my old-fashioned Kindle. Add in the ability to watch movies, play games from the Android marketplace, play Flash games, and this device becomes an ideal personal media device. In fact, I’m thinking this might make a great gift for my son’s 10th birthday in a couple weeks. The durability of the screen and the more kid-friendly size mean that the chance of it being destroyed in the first week is much less.

In conclusion, I think that Amazon stands to gain a strong market share with the new Kindle Fire. I do believe it will compete well with the iPad. For those of us that do more with tablets – such as construction inspections – the iPad is still king.


All images courtesy Amazon.com

2 thoughts on “Why the new Amazon Kindle Fire isn’t ideal for construction inspections

    1. Thanks! By the way, I had a wonderful conversation with Adam from your dev team, and am spending more time with the demo. I think Vela's product has a lot of potential in commercial construction quality control. Great job!

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