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New Kindle Fire HDX's tech support button could push IT to yell 'Mayday!'

'Mayday button' poses security issues for IT; CTO, analysts suggest letting IT customize tool so it can work with corporate help desk

With the tap of a button on any of the new Kindle Fire HDX tablets, Amazon promises that a frustrated user can get free tech support and tips from a live agent via video, hopefully within 15 seconds.

The function, called the "Mayday button," allows an Amazon expert to appear in video on the screen of the Fire HDX and "co-pilot you through any feature by drawing on your screen, walking you through how do something yourself, or doing it for you," said Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos.

Amazon announced the new 7-in. and 8.9-in. Kindle Fire HDX tablets on Wednesday. The smaller tablet will go on sale Oct. 18 for $229 and larger on Nov. 7 for $379.

Amazon has prepped three upcoming TV commercials to show a user interacting with an Amazon agent named Amy.

The Amazon Mayday agent can't see the user via any video interaction, but can see what's on his or her tablet display, and can draw highlights on the display to point out buttons and features and can navigate to other areas in the user interface.

Amazon calls the 24 x 7 Mayday button "revolutionary on-device tech support" and pointed out that Amazon has a strong record of achieving customer support kudos from the likes of JD Power and others.

No doubt, many end users will love the new feature.

At the same time, though, IT managers might cringe, and leave the room yelling, "Mayday!" A bring-your-own-device employee could press the Mayday button when confidential or otherwise sensitive business documents are open on an HDX screen, potentially exposing corporate secrets that could be shared with rivals.

Given the security issues, some analysts say Mayday is clearly intended for consumer use, not for workers. However, other analysts, and an IT executive, say Mayday could be useful in the workplace if the tech support request were somehow routed to the company's internal tech support organization rather than to Amazon.

"IT will never embrace the Mayday function until it is proven secure enough," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

"Given that Amazon has no enterprise client experience or reputation, this [proof] won't happen any time soon. IT will simply shut down the Web address [to Mayday support] just like they do with other services they don't want inside the firewall," Moorhead added.

Kindle Fire HDX tablet users will be able to turn off the Mayday function, or simply not use it if if they don't want the Amazon expert to see family photos or other sensitive material. But IT shops aren't likely to trust users to avoid using Mayday when sensitive documents and materials on a display, analysts said.

Ultimately, the question comes down to IT distrust of any third party, including Amazon.

Some analysts noted that if the tablet is owned by the worker, IT shops can't govern personal use and, therefore, use of the Mayday button. It's a classic problem for the many IT shops now dealing with the evolving Bring Your Own Device paradigm, analysts said.

With the Mayday button, users of the Kindle Fire HDX can talk with a live help desk person. (Photo: Business Wire)

Despite the many concerns IT shops may have with the Mayday button, Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said it could prove beneficial if the user request could be rounted to the IT help desk.

"The Mayday button would be cool if it could be redirected to the help desk of an enterprise. That would help IT shops," Gold said. "Amazon's help desk doesn't offer much help for enterprise users. There's no real advantage for business users if a business app fails to work."

In essence, Gold said, Mayday is a "consumer play" that's "not focused on enterprises, per se."

Amazon didn't respond when queried about whether the Mayday tool can be customized to allow the routing of calls by workers using Kindle Fire HDX workers to internal help desk.

Alex Yohn, chief technology officer at WagePoint, an online payroll software services provider, agreed that Mayday could prove valuable in business and education organizations if requests could be routed to internal IT staff.

When he served recently in an IT post at West Virginia University, Yohn said that remote user support was provided by the university help desk through an effective and popular subscription with LogMeIn. "It was used constantly and by everybody and provided a quick link for users," he said.

"My question for Amazon would be: Can Mayday requests come to our help desk? If we would have to use the Amazon help desk, we would have issues with that. If it's like a LogMeIn remote session, that would be a wonderful thing and we would go with that in a heartbeat," Yohn said.

Yohn said that in addition to the privacy and security worries that come with using a third party help desk, Amazon experts may have difficulty answering questions specific to company or university networks. "They might not know our particular settings for an Exchange service or Citrix remote services, so that might become convoluted," he said.

Yohn also said that a BYOD worker with a Kindle Fire HDX couldn't be restricted from using Mayday for personal uses.

"If it's BYOD, I can't say you can never use Mayday," he said. "It opens up a lot of questions. If it's my people on the help desk, it's a wonderful thing. If it's not my people, I would have a huge hesitation moving forward with it."

It's unclear whether Amazon would be open to letting IT developers adapt Mayday for business use, analysts said, even with a series of updates in the third-generation Kindle Fire tablets that Amazon explicitly describes as enterprise focused. The business-centric features in the new Kindle Fire tablets include hardware and software encryption, secure Wi-Fi for access to corporate apps, and a native VPN client.

Some critics said that while Amazon is trying to attract business users to its new Kindle Fires, it isn't yet equipped to serve them with an Amazon AppStore that has only 75,000 apps, far smaller than the app stores and developer communities of Google and Apple.

Even so, Amazon announced its Android-based operating system will now be called the Fire OS 3.0 "Mojito" to differentiate it from Android. The company also touts a series of productivity apps that run on the OS, such as Cisco AnyConnect, Documents to go, Evernote and GoToMeeting, all available in the AppStore.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Read more about tablets in Computerworld's Tablets Topic Center.


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