For months there had been speculation that Amazon was going to finally enter the tablet market – perhaps even give Apple a (serious) run for its money – and at a recent press event in NYC, the online retail giant finally responded: Introducing the Kindle Fire.
Let me go ahead and get this out of the way now: No, the Kindle Fire is not an “iPad Killer”…because it was never intended to be.
Rather, what Amazon did was to continue to strengthen and solidify their dominance as the premiere eReader…just an eReader on steroids…and lots of them…like if Barry Bonds & Mark McGwire had sex, the resulting steroid riddled eReader child might be a Kindle Fire. Sans the bacne and shriveled dual-core processors.
Instead of taking the iPad on head-to-head (since most tech-gurus would agree that Amazon would have the best chance at succeeding), what Amazon did was even far more impressive: they carved out an entirely new market.
Don’t get me wrong, the Kindle Fire is a tablet device – and an impressive one to boot – however judging from the specs, it is clear that Amazon did not venture into the tablet market with “iPad slaying” on their minds, but rather cornering a different market altogether.
Kindle Me This
One of my favorite gadgets of the past 5 years, hands down, is my 2nd Generation Kindle. For those who know me, this is quite a statement, since I tend to own a lot of flashy new gadgets. For the record, I also own an iPad.
The reason that the Kindle is so near and dear to my heart is that it encouraged me to get back into what I love to do, which is to read. I would read voraciously, but a busy schedule and not always being able to get to the bookstore began to tamper that love. At one point I would have considered myself a literary “purist” – not unlike those who prefer vinyl over digital music – and pretentiously “espoused the virtue” of holding a book in one’s hand…and to an extent this is still true. If I love a book or it is a classic, I still want to own it and put it on my shelf, this hasn’t changed. However Amazon literally transformed the book world (recent closings of Borders Bookstores across the country are a testament to this), to the point that they sell far more ebooks than physical books. Now, I can download – in a matter of seconds – a sample of a book that interests me, read reviews and/or purchase the book. Until now, the Kindle experience has been a decidedly monochromatic one. But I digress…
What the Kindle Fire accomplishes is what other iPad competitors have not been able to do thus-far, and that is to appeal to an entirely different demographic. You see, the iPad’s biggest competition is Google’s Android OS (which the Fire runs on). However, thanks in part to the fact that Google licences Android for free (Pls see: What Microsoft did with Windows in the 80’s), the Android tablet marketplace has been heavily diluted with multiple choices and therefore there is no one device in which support is consolidated behind like it is for Apple’s offering; making it near-impossible for a particular manufacturer (i.e. HTC, Samsung, ASUS etc) alone to gain significant market share against the iPad.
It’s the Price, Stupid
The mistake that other tablet manufacturers continued to make was to use the iPad’s base model entry cost – of $499 – the price point for their own devices…often times higher, to offset production costs. The reason this is a mistake is because, unlike Apple, most other tablet manufacturers do not have the same library of digital content as Apple…but Amazon does.
Amazon is offering the Fire at the exceptionally attractive price of $199. Basically a borderline impulse buy…and it worked, because I pre-ordered mine the day it was announced. In a difficult economy, Amazon just made the choice a lot easier for budget-minded consumers (especially nearing the holidays) who want to enter the tablet world, but can’t (or don’t want to) justify spending over $500 for an iPad. At its heart, the Fire (like the iPad) is a consumption device, meaning most people just want to be able to access the web, favorite apps, stream movies & music and play a few games. Also, one of the biggest points of contention with the iPad is how cumbersome it can feel (you can’t really hold it with one hand…at least not for long) and its lack of Flash support. The Fire not only comes in an ambidextrous ‘single-hand friendly’ 7″ design, but it supports Flash and is a gateway device intended to consume Amazon’s vast library of digital content.
As a matter of fact, it is reported that Amazon is actually losing money by offering the Fire for $199 (projected to cost $210 to build). A deficit that they are sure to make up quickly due to owners of the Fire accessing and purchasing vast amounts of Amazon’s digital content. In this, Amazon was genius: “offer an affordable alternative to the iPad, which is intended as a way for people to consume our many other offerings.”
As a result, Amazon has opened up an entirely new market of tablet consumers who would be classified as casual to everyday users, who don’t require the production apps, high price tag or tech-savvy know-how as those likely to purchase an iPad. We’re talking about millions of people who fit into this category that Apple was never going to get, but at $199, Amazon will.
But before you begin to think that the Fire is a lesser device, or that you might be “settling,” allow me to put that notion to rest.
Here are the guts:
- Display: 7″ multi-touch display with IPS (in-plane switching) technology and anti-reflective treatment, 1024 x 600 pixel resolution at 169 ppi, 16 million colors.
- Speed: Super fast dual-core processor.
- Weight: 14.6 ounces (413 grams). Light but sturdy.
- Storage: 512 MB RAM. 8GB internal memory. That’s enough for 80 apps, plus 10 movies or 800 songs or 6,000 books. Plus, Free cloud storage for all Amazon content.
- Battery Life: Up to 8 hours of continuous reading or 7.5 hours of video playback, with wireless off. Battery life will vary based on wireless usage, such as web browsing and downloading content.
- Charging: Fully charges in approximately 4 hours via included U.S. power adapter. Also supports charging from your computer via USB.
- USB: USB 2.0 (micro-B connector)
- Audio: 3.5 mm stereo audio jack, top-mounted stereo speakers.
Noticeably lacking are a camera, mic, 3G (also means not having to pay for a data plan) and Bluetooth support. The latter I am most disappointed in, as you have access to all of Amazon’s movies, TV shows and the Music Cloud Player…therefore not providing the ability to stream wirelessly to external speakers is a little odd to me…not sure why they left that out, I presume to keep costs down. You can still physically connect via the AUX plug, but still, offering Bluetooth would have been a no-brainer in my opinion.
In terms of internal storage, much has been made about the 8GB of internal ROM that the device ships with (and no SD Card slot), especially since other Android devices offer twice that amount (usually at twice the cost). However, for those familiar with using Amazon’s Cloud Player, you know that Amazon essentially offers you virtually unlimited cloud storage. Therefore, you can delete a book from your device after reading it and download it again anytime from the cloud, it is always saved and backed up for later use. Same with music, movies, TV shows and apps.
As an iPad user too, I have learned that I consistently use the web and the same apps everyday; all the others are really nothing more than clutter and space wasters (but they seemed cool at the time of purchase!). If I am traveling, I will transfer a movie to the device for offline viewing, but I quickly delete it upon my return.
Additionally, the Kindle Fire continues to use the vastly popular Whispersync technology, which silently and automatically syncs all of your content in the background. Like with books, if you are reading across multiple platforms (i.e. mobile device, web, Kindle), Whispersync remembers exactly where you left off. This technology will now be available for movies (for instance), so if you are watching a blockbuster film on your Fire, then switch to an AOD enabled device (i.e. Roku, Tivo) on your TV, it will remember and pick right back up where you left off.
Beyond that, the Kindle Fire uses a new proprietary browser that Amazon developed specifically for it called, “Silk.” I am quite intrigued by it, as it sounds like it will make browsing so much faster and in the process does not require the device to use up any internal memory at all (i.e. cached images, docs etc). Instead of explaining it myself, I’ll let the fine folks at Amazon do it for me:
Lastly, although the Fire is running on Android’s Gingerbread 2.3 OS, the UI looks nothing like other Android devices. It is very “Amazon” and they made it to look that way. The screens are filled with book shelves (how “Kindle” of you) and include everything from the most recently visited app, book, magazine, movie etc that you viewed, to allowing you to “pin” your favorites for easier / faster access. As this is an Amazon device, you also will not have access to Google’s app store, but rather Amazon’s App Store. This is actually a good thing (and very similar to Apple), in that Amazon only allows you access to apps that work on your device and are optimized for it. On the other hand, this likely means that Amazon will block access to apps for competing content providers like Spotify and Netflix…another very “Apple” thing to do, and perhaps not so great.
Amazon also offers its Prime Membership for 30 days free with the your purchase of Fire. If you wish to continue, it is only $79 a year and comes with unlimited streaming of thousands of movies and TV shows; not to mention free 2-day shipping and discounted next-day shipping. I can already tell that this is going to be a must and is a really good deal for what you are getting. The Kindle Fire will also come with a 3rd Party native email app (i.e. Gmail, Yahoo! etc) and will arrive pre-registered and personalized to your account.
What About Books? This Is Still A Kindle, Isn’t It?!
Oh shit, books! Yes, there are books, MILLIONS of books! You will be awash in glorious books!
Obviously you have the same access to Amazon’s incredible library of books (another area where Amazon beats Apple…publishers), except the only difference is that now you have a back-lit display. Interestingly enough, this is the one feature of the new Kindle Fire that I am least interested in. When it comes to reading books, especially on a device, one of the areas that Kindle excelled was with their revolutionary E-Ink display. This allowed you to read in bright light and treat the display much as you would with a traditional book (what on Earth are those again?!). On a back-lit display you run the risk of eye strain and the screen being washed out by brighter light.
As I mentioned before, I love my 2nd Generation Kindle and I still plan to read books on it. For one, the battery life measures in the realm of weeks, if not months (with 3G turned off) between charges and I can’t imagine trading that for the Fire’s 8 hour battery life, especially when I am traveling or away from home. I never have to bring my charging cord when I hit the road, even if it’s for a week or longer. The Kindle Fire just can’t compete with that.
The instances that I foresee reading a book on the Kindle Fire would be night reading in bed, as my girlfriend sleeps…because due to her vampire tendencies, she is very sensitive to light when she is trying to sleep. In this case, the Kindle Fire is perfect for reading, as it emits far less light than a bedside lamp would. I used to do this with my iPad, but please see my previous comments about being bulky, cumbersome and not ideal for one handed reading. Oddly enough, reading books is where I see the Kindle Fire falling short (in my mind), but this is only because I am not really a fan of back-lit displays while reading…HOWEVER, I do see the advantage when reading a book or magazine with vibrant color images, and in that regard, the Kindle Fire will more than make it up to me. 🙂
So, I will keep my trusty 2nd Gen Kindle and continue to get hours | days | weeks | months | years of enjoyment out of it when it comes time to read…cause eye lik tu reed.
Like I mentioned previously, I pre-ordered the Kindle Fire on the day that it was announced (Nay! Within an hour), as I wanted to be sure that I was one of the first to receive it upon its release on November 15th. As was the case with previous Kindle’s, I know that it is going to be “THE” hot gift of the year and I have no desire to wait on back-order for months, as millions of others had to in the past.
In terms of a powerful, attractive and highly functional entry device into the world of tablets, you would be hard pressed to find a similarly spec’d one for $199. This, coupled with Amazon’s already vast library of digital content, means that the Kindle Fire is destined to be a huge success and will likely eclipse all other Android based tablets on the market. Amazon did this one right, in my opinion, and I am confident that millions of others who have shied away from $500 – $1000 tablet price points will feel right at home and comfortable opening their wallets to the Kindle Fire (In an interesting side-note: After the announcement of the Kindle Fire, many other tablets lowered their prices in response). It is for that reason alone, that Apple has a major competitor in a market & demographic that the iPad cannot touch.
On the other hand, if you are deciding between an iPad and the Kindle Fire (meaning the cost is of no concern to you), then I would say that you are likely to (and probably should) pick up an iPad. As I mentioned previously, I own an iPad, along with a Kindle and an Android phone. If price is not the issue, then the iPad comes with more features (i.e. camera, Bluetooth etc).
I love my iPad (even though I am nowhere near a fan-boy, nor do I buy any music or movies through Apple…all of that I do through Amazon), therefore the Kindle Fire makes sense to me because I use a lot of Amazon’s services and the Fire was literally designed for that purpose. Additionally, I plan to use my Kindle Fire differently (to a degree) than my iPad, not to mention the slimmer form factor (i.e. less cumbersome and “douchey hipster” to carry around), Flash support and an amazing price that makes it impossible to overlook.
If you have wanted to pick up a tablet (and I highly recommend that you do), but have been waiting for an affordably priced (and slimmer) alternative to the $499+ iPad…I think you just found your newest toy!
The Kindle Fire will ship on November 15th (mine arrives on the 16th…I have no patience…give me next-day shipping!) and Amazon is still currently accepting pre-orders.
By: Dana Sciandra
Please feel free to add any comments or questions in the section below and I will do my best to respond. In the meantime, check out this Kindle Fire demo video filmed at the Amazon press event: