Vid The latest Kindle Fire HDX tablets come with a free 24/7 support hotline via video chat. Putting a human face within easy reach may just push Amazon into the never-ending money-suck that is tech support.
Here's how the video-chat help desk is supposed to work; your mileage may vary:
The HDX is an evolution of the Kindle Fire, with a faster processor (2.2GHz Snapdragon), bigger, high-resolution screen (the HDX is available in 1920 x 1200 7in and 2560 x 1600 8.9in versions) and an OS spun out of Android Jelly Bean. But most interesting of all is the ability to press the "Mayday" button for video support, and hand over control of the Kindle to Amazon's smiling support desk.
Keeping an eye on the customers
This is the support nirvana that consumer-facing companies have been grasping at for decades. The ability to see what's on the customer's screen – while talking to them and drawing their attention to parts of the display – is possible in some enterprise computing environments but has hitherto been denied to consumers.
Not that mobile operators haven't tried; technical support is a huge nightmare for operators, and smartphones haven't helped at all. Just about every operator has experimented with remote support for Symbian and Windows Mobile, not to mention their successors.
Taking control of a handset to walk the user though functions or change settings would be hugely useful, but such experiments have been plagued with technical problems.
Of course there's also the fact good proportion of support calls are about lacking connectivity, and while that's often down to the settings on the handset, this cannot be fixed remotely (though a configuration SMS works in many cases).
But Kindles are well-connected, and this new tablet certainly has the processing power to manage a decent video call. Amazon has also gone some way to address the often discussed but rarely addressed security issues. "Mayday" calls are only video one-way, and passwords may be blurred out to the support desk, but mostly the security is addressed by asking users to trust Amazon.
Hello again, sir. We're sorry you don't like the Facebook redesign
What isn't addressed is the old bugbear about making support too easy to find. Technical support walks a fine line between being easy to contact, and being so easy to contact that users stop bothering to look elsewhere.
Back in the last century, a certain European ISP set up its tech support with the target of answering every call within four rings (an ideal they claimed to have borrowed from American Express). The desk was duly established and promptly overrun by users who called in every time a website was slow to load or their cat walked across the keyboard.
Operatives found themselves entertaining bored users and repeatedly explaining that the company was not responsible for the contents of the entire internet.
The solution was to reduce the quality of support to the point where only the determined and/or desperate would persist, weeding out the time wasters who were turning the desk into money pit.
Perhaps Kindle users are more discerning than that, perhaps they'll only hit that "Mayday" button when they really need it, but with Amazon planning to answer every call within 15 seconds, we'd not want to bet the future of a company on that. ®