Under Fire, Amazon Says Kindle Fire Is Getting An Update Within Two Weeks

Several weeks into the U.S.-only sales debut of the Kindle Fire, and Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) has been facing up to mixed reviews for the tablet, with at least one notable usability expert as well as everyday consumers downright critical of the device. Now Amazon says that it will be releasing the first software update for the device “in less than two weeks,” and there is speculation that it may even release a new version of the device altogether by next spring.

According to the New York Times, the update will cover areas such as multitouch navigation response and other performance issues, and editing the list of options for recent activity on the tablet — one of the privacy concerns voiced by some people.

Meanwhile, the promise of a new device is a more speculative idea. Similar to the reports last week that Amazon may be looking to launch the Fire in the UK in January, Amazon has not confirmed whether it will be releasing a new version of the tablet in the spring.

That’s not to say the the device has been universally panned: of the 4,716 reviews currently on Amazon’s own site for the device, 2,222 give the device a five-star rating, while 1,593 rate it three stars or lower.

The criticisms have included a lack of external volume control, problems with the responsiveness of the touch interface, a poor reading experience compared to the Kindle, poor browsing and not enough on-device storage for media files — one of the services that Amazon has been touting to be used with device — although its take is specifically on using them via cloud-based storage).

Some have speculated about whether some of the issues might even be intentional: it’s very easy to buy things from Amazon, but usability expert Jakob Nielsen notes that the experience of buying from others is decidedly not. And making the Fire not great for reading certainly means that people can continue to buy the e-reader products, too.

On the other side, Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, sums up one of the bigger positives for buyers, at $199 compared to just under $500 for the Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) iPad, the low price of the Kindle Fire outweighs the flaws: “Amazon has a lot of air cover to have a B-level product,” he told the newspaper. Others have praised the fast browser, the size of the device, the range of content to use with it and the quality of video playback.

Amazon said in November that the Kindle family, taken together, is achieving sales records for the company. On “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving that many mark as the start of holiday shopping season, the retailer said it sold four times as many Kindles as on the same day a year ago.

But as is usual with Amazon, the company did not break out how many Fire tablets were part of that — or how many actual units were sold of the tablet or any other Kindle e-reading device. One estimate has it that it will ship 3.9 million units in Q4 2011, second only to the iPad.

The news comes at the same time that another kind of tech insult has been thrown at the Kindle Touch e-reader: someone has figured out how to hack it with a simple code. So far, there is nothing special that comes along with the hack that users can do, although as Digital Reader points out, it opens the door for other enterprising hackers to figure that next stage out.