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Online streaming, the Kindle Fire HDX, and why should you care?

Tablets are everywhere these days. Amazon joined the fray with the launch of its Kindle Fire in 2011. Since then, the tablet has been struggling to become a low cost replacement for the iPad and to compete against the many Android tablets flooding the market. Is it just one of the many form factors that you need to think about when streaming online? Or should you pay closer attention? Read on to see how latest Amazon tablet may change how you feel about adding support for them.

Amazon updated its tablet offering last autumn with the new Kindle Fire HDX. It comes in two sizes (7” and 8.9”) and that means more form factors to consider for video streaming. But it also means browser considerations since Amazon only supports their own Silk browser. The browser limitation is one of the general complaints against Amazon’s Kindle tablet series in general.

Other issues with the Kindle Fire revolve around the closed Amazon environment, which means no access to Google Play or Google Apps in general. Only Amazon supported apps in their own app store can be used (though you’ll find plenty of instructions how to get around that on the web if you’re inclined to do so). But the HDX has caused some reviewers to stop and take a look anyway.

Great Design and Power

kindle fire hdx

Laptopmag.com performed a head to head comparison of the Kindle HDX to the iPad Air to see which tablet was best. The iPad won the contest by a small margin, though a few of the categories were subjectively assessed so it really could have gone either way. One of those categories is the display. While the HDX offers a higher resolution, the reviewers felt that both performed equally and considered the category a draw versus a win for the HDX.

Others would disagree.

A reviewer on Gigaom.com had this to say about the Kindle’s display:

“The 2560 x 1600, well-calibrated display is outstanding; better than any I’ve ever used for a tablet or computer. So the device excels at content consumption — noticeably.” 

For watching online video, the Kindle HDX is arguably the best tablet on the market.

So how is the HDX competing in real sales and usage?

A tale of limited competition

There are a number of organisations that measure the tablet market. Many of them use the number of shipments made as the primary metric. A potentially more useful metric, is how many of the shipped tablets are actually used rather than returned or remain unsold inventory.

Geekwire.com reported on a study that showed Amazon tablets were activated more than the competition just after Christmas in 2013. Specifically, Amazon had 24 times the number of activations compared to a regular December day (includes all versions of the Fire and HDX tablet). Apple had approximately two times the number of activations. Acer, another manufacturer of Android based tablets, saw five times the number of activations.

The low cost of the Amazon tablets made them great for giving as gifts, which likely accounts for the huge bump they saw in activations. Despite low prices, taking market share from Apple is a difficult thing. In another article, Geekwire reports on a study done by the mobile advertiser Chitika which says Apple controls over 76% of the market, but Amazon is second with 9.4%.

So Amazon is competing in a limited fashion. Some analysts say though, that since Amazon controls the entire experience on the tablet it will always be a niche device – only for those that enjoy Amazon’s content. It won’t become main-stream because of the lack of openness provided by the other Android tablets. They may be right.

But I’ve used the Kindle Fire (not HDX) and found that I was able to do pretty much anything I wanted to do other than perhaps install some apps that Amazon doesn’t allow in its app store. But as far as surfing the web and viewing content from any website, I had no problems.

The browser issue

As I said before, one major complaint people have is that the Silk browser provided by Amazon just isn’t very good. Or looking at it another way, they just don’t like the lack of choice provided by Amazon. I prefer the Google Chrome browser on every device that supports it, but I can get along with Silk just fine. But that’s just me. Let’s take a look at what a more objective source says about it.

Statcounter compiles statistics on Internet usage across platforms, devices, and browsers. The image here is the market share of tablet browsers for the last year.

usage stats for tablet browsers

Silk has remained steady at about a 3% market share since February 2013. That makes it fourth in usage, far behind Apple’s Safari. It’s clear that in terms of actual usage on the web, Amazon’s devices lag far behind the competition. While the analysts certainly disagree, many suggest that the Kindle HDX will change that in the coming months. Given the high quality of the tablet, combined with a much lower price point than the iPad, or even competing Android tablets, the HDX has the opportunity to start making some headway. It certainly would if Amazon unleashed the browser and app restrictions. But that isn’t likely to happen since Amazon’s business model relies on the users making purchases from them, not Google Play.

What about streaming support?

So as someone that is interested in how the form factor and browsers affect the ability to stream to a device, there are two ways you can look at the Kindle HDX. The first is to ignore it. There isn’t yet enough market share to make it worthwhile investing the time to make the content compatible.

The second is to realize that it is a tablet designed for content consumption – video especially. It may yet take more market share in time. Especially since the Silk browser is 100% HTML5 compatible with the multimedia features (mobileHTLM5.org). This means if you’re using a player that adapts the end device, you’re already supporting the Kindle HDX browser. Users should have no problem at all viewing your content provided you’ve set up the player correctly with HTLM5.

Only time will tell how Amazon will fare in the tablet market, but in the meantime if you’re using the PlanetStream player, you don’t need to worry too much about it. Everything should work just fine.

Oliver Burt

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