The Kindle Fire has been announced. And it answers the most important question you can if you are a tablet maker right now: Why buy this instead of an iPad? Short answer: It’s $199.
Longer answer. It’s $199. It’s 7”. It has a dual core processor, a color IPS display, comes with WIFI, 8GB onboard storage and 7-8 hours of battery life. Most importantly, it has content. You’ve got everything available on the Kindle, and all of the music, movies, and apps in Amazon’s store.
Up until today, I think most of the tablet competitors have been poor facsimiles of the iPad. Devices that intended to dethrone the iPad, but had some (or many) flaws. Poor battery life, relatively little app support, no media ecosystem. And the price was never more than a few bucks cheaper than the real deal, often even costing more.
The Fire does something different, and I’m not going to lie, the biggest difference is the price. It covers some of the basic features that most people want - an easy way to consume media. Books, music, movies, TV, and the web. But it’s $199. This isn’t to say that the price is the only interesting thing. The Fire has a few more things going for it than that. But honestly, it’s the most attractive feature. At $199, the Fire really only has to be decent. It’s doesn’t have to be better than the iPad, it just has to be able to ground out and get on base. And I’m guessing that’s Amazon’s strategy.
At $199, even using less capable hardware than an iPad or a XOOM, you can bet that Amazon isn’t raking in a profit on each device. But while Apple is firmly a hardware company, Amazon is increasingly becoming a content company. Amazon can afford to sell the Fire at a slim profit, or perhaps even as a loss leader in order to get people into Amazon’s ecosystem.
One more reason the Fire is different: It’s not a me-too device. While plenty of other companies have been happy slapping Android on touchscreen and shipping it, Amazon is focusing on making an Amazon tablet. Yep, the Fire runs Android at it’s base. But that’s about it. It’s sort of like hearing how a ChromeBook runs Linux. It does, and if you’re a bit geeky, you probably know that. But neither Google nor Amazon are going to go to lengths to announce it’s parentage. And you wouldn’t know it just by looking (or even digging a bit).
Finally, there’s Silk, Amazon’s web browser. It’s webkit, kind of. The interesting thing about Silk is that it offloads a lot of processing onto Amazon’s cloud network in order to speed up response on the device itself. Server side rendering isn’t exactly new. Opera for iPhone has covered this ground, but the problem with Opera is that it didn’t always render the way you expected, and the browser itself felt alien on the iPhone. On the other hand, Silk is designed to work with the Fire as a native app. And it uses webkit to render.
I firmly believe the Kindle is the first competitor that will actually have Cupertino take notice. And yet, I don’t think the Fire is a direct competitor, so much as an entry into an untapped segment of the market.
Given infinite money, I don’t think there is any reason why you’d recommend a Kindle FIre over an iPad. The Fire doesn’t have 3G even as an option. The hardware is less capable and I suspect the A5 will easily trounce the Fire’s little dual core chip. The app ecosystem less developed. The screen is smaller (although, this might be a check in the pro column for some.) You get more storage on an iPad. And on and on. The iPad is closer to being a laptop replacement than it is being an accessory to a laptop.
But the Fire has the price. I know plenty of people that would love a tablet for reading or movie watching, or browsing the web on the couch, but don’t want to pay $500 to do so. In comes the Fire. I can fairly easily see people that had never considered a tablet device picking one up for themselves or as a holiday gift.
The Kindle doesn’t attempt to outright kill the iPad. It can happily live in a space Apple’s juggernaut hasn’t entered. It’a closer to being the iPad’s little brother than it is to being an iPad killer.
Less than a hundred bucks and you’ve got an e-ink book reader. And not some sad knock-off from a tiny company you’ve never heard of. The real deal. The Kindle is to ebook readers what the iPad is to tablets, and you can get your hands on one for $79. Expect this to be a hot gift for the holiday season. Maybe even the gift for the holiday season.
If you can’t tell by now, I expect the next six months to look very good for Amazon. They’ve done something that other companies, even Apple, haven’t. They’ve got a device that you can do the basics with cheaply. For quite a lot of people, that’s enough. If they got the interface right, and that’s probably a bigger “if” than this piece does credit, they’ve almost certainly got a hit.