Can Amazon kindle competition in tablets?

After the uncontested domination of the tablet market by the Apple iPad, another contender may finally be emerging. Yet the newly announced Kindle Fire by Amazon is unlikely to be a true challenger to the iPad, which was probably a good decision on the part of Amazon.

The Fire is smaller than the iPad, with no camera, no microphone and less memory. So why the buzz, you ask? As one commentator so succinctly put it – It’s the price, stupid.

With most capable tablets, including the iPad, starting at $499, the Fire comes in at less than half of that. For a ‘mere’ $199, you get a seven inch tablet with 8GB of memory, running a proprietary version of Google’s Android operating system.

One of the reasons Amazon could make the tablet that cheap was by going with the smaller screen, with a seven inch screen being considerably cheaper to produce than the 10-inch screen of the iPad. Although the smaller screen of the Fire may not be as great for enjoying videos or reading magazines as the bigger screen, it does make the device smaller and lighter, which means better portability. A seven inch tablet will easily fit into a handbag, while a ten inch tablet requires quite a bit more space.

The pricing also indicates that for Amazon the device itself is probably not meant to rake in the profits. Rather, it is intended to make the consumption of Amazon content much easier, and thereby drive content sales.

It is hoped that the Fire can do the same for Amazon’s music and video that the Kindle did for e-books, with people shifting to all Amazon content all of the time because of the ease of integration with their device.

This is enhanced by the free cloud storage of all Amazon content offered along with the Fire, a feature that is very useful considering the relatively limited 8GB memory on the device. Although this is plenty for music and books, once videos are added to the device, the memory can disappear very quickly, so being able to access your content without having to connect to a computer is a big plus. Of course, this relies on a handy WiFi hotspot, as the Fire will be WiFi only with no 3G version available, at least initially.

The device started shipping on 15 November, but as Amazon started taking pre-orders at the end of September, ordering one now will probably leave you towards the back of the queue.
So does this mean Apple can ignore the Fire? Probably not without getting burned, eventually.

It is likely that this will only be the first salvo, and although the more powerful iPad will undoubtedly remain in the lead for the foreseeable future, the Fire and its successors are likely to improve to a point where the difference between the devices will only be apparent to power users.

Apart from the Fire, Amazon also announced a slew of new Kindle e-readers, featuring the excellent e-ink screen which, in my experience, reads every bit as well as a printed page. Try reading for an extended period of time of a backlit tablet screen and you will soon start to feel your eyes getting tired. Not so with the e-ink screen on the Kindle. It is also great in direct sunlight, something that glossy backlit screens cannot say.

The most exciting Kindle e-reader in the newly announced range is a touch screen device that forsakes the small keyboard present on previous devices in favour of a touch screen. For many, this was the one element the Kindle was still lacking in order to recreate a true reading experience.

I might just have to retire my second generation Kindle in favour of one of these in the near future.

As for the Fire… for now I’ll just stick with my iPad 2 thanks. WH