Kindle Fire: Amazon Gets It Right
Since the first Android tablets came out, the world has been waiting for Apple to take a back seat to Google's mighty tablet regime. Unfortunately for Google, it hasn't happened, and all their tablets have been somewhat less impressive than one had hoped based on the Android smartphone presence. And this even after tablets with the Android platform have been provided across several makers with very diverse price points. And then the infamous failure of the HP Touchpad and lackluster sales of the RIM Playbook seemed to cement Apple's dominance in the tablet market. Instead, the industry turned to Microsoft to see their release of Windows 8 Preview in hopes to find a platform to compete with Apple. Now, I really like Apple, but I also like healthy competition in a market to drive innovation. Apple, having competed in the computer market for years found a way to drive innovation when they introduced Mac OS X and the iPod. They then moved naturally into the mobile device arena by building on the success of the iPod with the iPhone and the iPod Touch, then the iPad and the Apple TV. And why where they so successful? Because they have innovative products that are backed by a very powerful ecosystem of apps and media for these devices. The very walled garden that tech pundits had condemned when comparing the open Android platform has provided a seemless experience of adding media, accessing the apps you want, and protecting the iOS devices from security threats and software piracy that seem to be rampant in the Android platform. Many of those same tech pundits who doomed Apple to a slow, tortured death because of their walled garden, now were calling on Google to do much of the same things: have more control over the Android Marketplace, provide more user friendly media options, etc. And they wanted Android tablet makers to provide tablets at a price lower than Apple was offering. The makers couldn't see their way to doing that because they didn't have the media sales to help recoup potential losses, or they couldn't build a tablet at the same quality level as Apple. Because they were just the hardware makers, and not the software and media providers, they had little control, little say, and ultimately little ability to compete. And then Amazon came along with their Kindle Fire. The Amazon Kindle has proven that a dedicated eReader without apps can be hugely successful if priced right. They also have proven that taking a loss on the hardware can be recouped by media sales. They have the infrastructure for their devices, including their own Android Marketplace that can be (I'm not sure if it is) tightly controlled for quality. Essentially, they had the walled garden in place, they just needed the device to put that garden into effect. Now, I have yet to play with a Kindle Fire, but I would guess the platform is very solid. From what I can read, it's very simple and is geared completely and totally to consumption of media from Amazon. This isn't a bad thing, as a large majority of people out there may just want a consumption tool. For those looking for a little more, such as apps for content creation (I'm thinking primarily documents, worksbooks and presentations here), the Fire may not be your best choice. The screen is too small to type comfortably (if it compares to the Samsung 7-inch tab), so you would be relegated to having to use an external keyboard, and it looks like the Fire doesn't do Bluetooth (someone correct me if I'm wrong). So, overall, I think Amazon has the right idea. If you have a tablet and a marketplace that can provide the ecosystem that is safe and secure for something as personal as a tablet, then the tablet can succeed. Do I think it will beat out the iPad? No, but not because it's not great, but because the iPad can do more content creation with the iWorks suite, iMovie, and GarageBand. Should Amazon create apps that can compete directly with those, then I think the price point will become an issue. But I don't think Amazon will, because it doesn't make sense. Apple is in the business of building hardware with a great customer experience. Amazon is in the business to make it as easy as possible to consume their content they provide. While both business models overlap at times, they are not the same. Ultimately I see Amazon's Fire taking the wind out of the Android tablet market. And if they move to WebOS as rumored, then Android will be in trouble. Those are, at least, my first impressions. Perhaps one day I'll get to use a Kindle Fire (hint, hint, Amazon, should you want to send me one!), and I'll have a more comprehensive view of where the Fire will fit in the tablet ecosystem. For now, I see it as a valuable addition, though not the market-dominant device.