This morning Amazon announced its anticipated new tablet device, the Kindle Fire.
Some people will point out that it is based on Google’s Android operating system, which is technically true. Other people will point out that it is the first real competitor to Apple’s iPad, and that is technically true as well. But neither really get at what makes Amazon’s $199 Kindle Fire such a significant product.
In simplest terms, the Fire is a 7″ tablet with a low-end touchscreen, a modest amount of storage, and WiFi only connectivity. It has no camera, no microphone, no cellular-based 3G service.
On the surface, the Fire would not appear to be an iPad killer. That’s because it isn’t.
But I do think it’s going to be a big success. Why? Because it is, if you will pardon the expression, a tablet for the rest of us.
Let me explain.
I am a happy owner of an iPad 2, which is a brilliant piece of equipment. It is a general-purpose tablet that will meet most of my computing needs when I’m away from my desk. It lets me video chat with my son in Korea, check in on my online students, take notes, do e-mail, listen to music, watch videos, view web sites, read books, and a lot of other things. But it did cost quite a bit of money, it isn’t the lightest thing out there, and it requires a connection to my computer to do a number of functions (though that is about to change.)
The thing that makes the iPad so great for me is the Apple infrastructure that goes with it. Apple designed the hardware, the operating system, and vets all of the apps that go on it. I know that anything I do with my iPad will simply work.
A lot of competing tablets have come on the market, but none of them have really taken off, largely because they miss the message of Apple’s success. They holler about how cool and powerful they are, without giving customers the total experience that Apple does.
And then Amazon released it’s tablet. The Fire is much cheaper than the iPad because it uses cheaper hardware. It is primarily a media device, not a general purpose tablet. It will do a range of functions, including e-mail, but it is first and foremost a media device. It is designed to use Amazon’s enormous online bookstore, it’s great collection of streaming music and video, and provide excellent access to the Web. It does all of this by running an almost unrecognizably changed version of Android that has been heavily customize by Amazon. And so while you can call it an Android device, that’s really selling it short. At its core, the Kindle Fire is an Amazon device.
And that’s why it will be a success.
It’s not trying to be a better iPad. It’s not going head-to-head with a great device. (Although that’s the story you’re going to be sold on it.) What it is is a great device to consume the many media products Amazon is so good at selling.
Remember, Apple is fundamentally a hardware and software company that sells media products to get you to buy their phenomenal hardware. Amazon is a media marketing company that sells hardware to get you to buy their phenomenal collection of media products.
Along with the Fire, Amazon also announced new e-ink based Kindle e-book readers.
An entry level $79 version and a touch-screen version selling for in the WiFi version for $99 and in the 3G version for $149.
These e-ink devices are lightweight, inexpensive, good-in-the-sun e-book devices that are not designed to be tablets. They are also much better at being an e-book device than either the Kindle Fire or the iPad. I’m going to be ordering one of these as soon as I decide which model I want.
So… you will hear that Apple finally has a competitor in the tablet market, and that will be true. You will hear that Amazon has a great new tablet. And that will also be true. But the reason Amazon is going to be a big success (I believe) is because it’s not trying to be better than Apple. It’s trying to be different.
So what do you think? Are you going to buy a Kindle Fire or one of the new e-book readers?