Amazon may be trotting out new versions of its Kindle Fire tablets and an updated software platform for them, but its also introducing a unique new feature that's arguably the most interesting part of the whole deal. Called Mayday, the feature is a built-in remote support and instant helpline for every Kindle Fire HDX. If it sounds like a virtual version of Apple's vaunted Genius Bar, that's because it kind of is.
Mayday is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is accessed by a dedicated button found right in the tablet's Quick Settings menu. A tap on that button connects the user with a live support representative in 15 seconds or less, no matter what time or day of the year it is. Once connected, the user can see the support representative in a small window on their screen, and the representative can see whatever app or screen is on the user's tablet (Amazon was sure to point out to us that while you can see the rep, they can't see you). Support techs can guide users with visual cues and auditory prompts, and if those fail, they can even control the tablet remotely to resolve the issue.
It works very similarly to LogMeIn, TeamViewer, and other remote desktop applications that have been available for PCs and Macs for years. Amazon doesn't have the luxury of physical retail locations for support services like Apple, so Mayday is its way of handling the millions of new users that might be having their first computing experience on a tablet. Amazon's Jeff Bezos says the company goal with Mayday "is to revolutionize tech support."
If Amazon can make it work in the real world, Mayday could be a game-changing feature
In our brief tests of the service on a new Kindle Fire HDX, it worked as advertised. We were quickly connected with a friendly agent who was able to answer any question we had about the tablet and even walk us through using it via telestrator-style drawings on the screen. It was an impressive demo — if Amazon is able to make this work as seamlessly in the real world during high-demand times (such as say, Christmas morning, which the company says it has specifically planned for) it will be a truly valuable feature for many Kindle Fire HDX owners.
Naturally, there are some security concerns that crop up with Mayday. A quick tap and you've opened up a direct channel to your device and all of the information stored on it. It's not hard to imagine how that could go horribly wrong if someone malicious was able to break into that channel and get access to your data. Additionally, since support reps have full access to everything you do on the tablet, they could see you type in passwords or other sensitive information while they are triaging your problem unless they specifically disable the ability to see what you're doing. (A notice is displayed to the user when the rep has disabled their screen.) Amazon tells us that all representatives are vetted and have to pass tests before being hired, but that doesn't address the possibility of someone on the outside getting in. It is possible to turn off the feature entirely, though Bezos notes that doing that would be "disabling the greatest feature we've ever made."
Turning off Mayday would be "disabling the greatest feature [Amazon] ever made"
Amazon is pushing Mayday as big differentiator that separates its Kindle Fire HDX tablets from the competition, such as Google's Nexus 7 and Apple's iPad. The company is hoping that the simplicity and ease with which the service works will be enough to offset the fact that it can't send people to an in-person support desk, such as the Genius Bar. The idea is certainly enticing — just imagine giving Grandma a brand-new tablet and never having to field a single support question for it yourself. That alone is likely to sell a few people on the Kindle Fire HDX.
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