New Disquietude podcast episode: music by Lesley Flanigan, Dave Seidel, KMRU, Celia Hollander, and John Hooper; interview with Flanigan; commentary; short essay on reading waveforms. • Disquiet.com F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #field-recording, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

The Kindle Fire Is Deaf

Note: There’s updated information in the comments section to this post.

Amazon.com earlier this week announced four additional items in its Kindle line of ebook readers.

One caveat for potential consumers, and for software developers: The new flagship Kindle device, named Fire, has no microphone.

The Fire is, of course, more than an ebook reader. While the three other newly announced Kindles (Kindle, Kindle Touch, Kindle Touch 3G) build on the line’s next-generation e-ink technology, the Fire is a tablet computer with a multi-touch color screen. The Kindle Fire is powered by a modified branch of Google’s Android operating system. Other non-Apple tablets and ebook readers are built on Android, and several have been targets of the affections and aspirations of hackers. The Nook, a product of Barnes & Noble, has likely been the most popular ereader for after-market tinkerers. Reports that Amazon will not aggressively derail those who seek to root the new Kindles (i.e., take control of the operating system; see liliputing.com) suggest that the Fire may soon rival the Nook in that regard.

The absence of a microphone, however, has unfortunate potential ramifications, especially if the Fire becomes a top-ranking Android device. For one thing, the popularity of microphone-enabled software will likely suffer — ranging from interactive sound applications like RJDJ (which takes sound in realtime from the microphone and makes new, musical sound out of it) to utilities like Shazam (which identifies songs based on them being “heard” via the microphone). Voice activation overall may be de-prioritized, should Fire gain significant market penetration. Companies may be less likely to innovate with such microphone-sensitive options as the Three Little Pigs children’s book app that makes good on the promise of blowing the house down, or the way the Clif Bar SOS iPhone app fogs up when you breathe into the microphone. Soundcloud.com’s Android app has a record function — will it need to devise an alternate version for deaf devices like the Fire? (Note: not all of these apps mentioned above are available for the Android operating system. They are simply mentioned as illustrations of the range of microphone-sensitive developement.)

The absence of the microphone emphasizes the Fire’s Kindle heritage: it is depicted as a device for consumption, not production. This is why the initial promotional materials for the Fire refer to how you, the Fire user, can “Read Your Documents” (rather than edit or create documents). The key concern is that consumption and production are not mutually exclusive; they are, in fact, two distant ends of a broad and gradated continuum. The apps mentioned above are in several cases examples where microphone use is part of the consumption.

In addition, the absence of the microphone nixes one of the staple utilities of mobile devices: the ability to take voice notes, which is arguably a better user experience when reading an ebook (or web page) than is momentarily switching one’s position in order to type notes.

The microphone is not the only immediately evident technology lacking in the Fire. Also missing are 3G support, and a camera. These absences have been explained collectively as means by which Amazon reached the Fire sale price of $199, which has been widely viewed as competitive (in response to the Amazon release announcement, Barnes & Noble for one day dropped the price of its Nook Color to $150 from $250; via mobilewhack.com). The absences also make for a certain amount of planned obsolescence, providing a simple path for Amazon to the Kindle Fire 2.0, which could add one or more of the missing features, much as cameras were added when the iPad 2 was introduced.

Certainly Android’s preeminence as a mobile-phone technology means that the operating system is, for the foreseeable future, linked to devices with microphones, but the absence of a microphone on the Kindle Fire is an unfortunate development.

More on the Kindle Fire at amazon.com.

And for reference, here are my thoughts on the iPad, a few days after its January 2010 announcement: “Avoiding iPad Bloat.”

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tags: , , , , / Comments: 3 ]

2 Comments

  1. Zamiel
    [ Posted December 8, 2011, at 6:43 am ]

    So plug in a headset. That’s confirmed to work.

    What, are you lazy?

    • Marc Weidenbaum
      [ Posted December 8, 2011, at 10:46 pm ]

      I didn’t know until you pointed it out that this was the case. I appreciate the information.

      This piece was written on September 30, and at the time, certainly to my knowledge, what you report wasn’t known.

      It’s good to know, now, that the Kindle Fire isn’t deaf. It merely requires a hearing aid.

One Trackback

  • […] Disquiet points out the fact that the Kindle Fire has no microphone. A good point and a serious drawback for the device from an audio and music perspective. Of course it doesn’t have a camera or 3G either, which are also drawbacks, but the lack of audio input is more problematic. […]

Post a Reply to Zamiel Cancel reply

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*
*

Subscribe without commenting

  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

  • Field Notes

    News, essays, surveillance

  • Interviews

    Conversations with musicians/artists/coders

  • Studio Journal

    Video, audio, patch notes

  • Projects

    Select collaborations and commissions

  • Subscribe



  • Current Activities

  • Upcoming
    December 13, 2021: This day marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
    December 28, 2021: This day marks the 10th anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation.
    January 6, 2021: This day marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.

  • Recent
    July 28, 2021: This day marked the 500th consecutive weekly project in the Disquiet Junto music community.
    There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
    A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen. (Details at oup.com.)

  • Ongoing
    The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: disquiet.com/junto.

  • My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).

  • disquiet junto

  • Background
    Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.

    Recent Projects

  • 0512 / The Sequel / The Assignment: Record a piece of music that follows up a preexisting piece of music.
    0511 / Freeze Tag / The Assignment: Consider freezing (and thawing) as a metaphor for music production.
    0510 / Cold Turkey / The Assignment: Record one last track with a piece of music equipment before passing it on.
    0509 / The Long Detail / The Assignment: Create a piece of music with moments from a preexisting track.
    0508 / Germane Shepard / The Assignment: Use the Shepard tone to create a piece of music.

    Full Index
    And there is a complete list of past projects, 512 consecutive weeks to date.

  • Archives

    By month and by topic

  • [email protected]

    [email protected]

  • Downstream

    Recommended listening each weekday

  • Recent Posts