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Kindle Fire – A Tablet for the Masses?

By: Ken Schoenberg
on October 2, 2011 11:00 am

So, the Amazon “Kindle Fire” tablet is now reality and I believe it will be a big seller. At $199 it is within shouting distance of that “no brainer” gadget purchase price. Best of all, for us consumers, Amazon is forcing the rest of the tablet market to prove their value and “reason for being”.

That doesn’t mean that Motorola, Asus, Acer, Toshiba, Vizio, Samsung and whoever else is making an Android tablet this week is going to be out of business. Oh, and unless Apple hires Leo Apotheker (former CEO of Hewlett-Packard), I very much doubt the iPad is going to be killed off anytime soon.

There is an “if” though, because I’m writing about a device I’ve only seen in demo videos. Problems have been known to become apparent when a million users fire up a new device or service. But, for the sake of this article I’m going to assume that the demos are real, the people that used the demo units are being honest and that Amazon is sticking with their practice of not releasing products until they are ready. Besides, if Amazon doesn’t deliver it will make for an even better article come mid-November.

First let’s talk about the timing of Amazon’s release. It’s about as good as it could get. The product is available for presale now, on the cusp of the fourth quarter, it will be released over a month before Christmas and most importantly, may be available several months before Apple is expected to announce its new iPad model(s).

In designing the Kindle Fire Amazon looked at their target market and only included hardware necessary to support that offering. The device features:

  1. 1 Ghz Dual Core Processor
  2. 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
  3. Battery Life – 7.5 hours of video or 8 hours of book reading (WiFi Off)
  4. Weight 14.6 ounces (413 grams)
  5. Charges from wall adapter OR computer USB port
  6. Free cloud storage for all Amazon content.
  7. One-month Prime Subscription
  8. 8GB RAM
  9. Amazon Silk web browser (http://amazonsilk.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/introducing-amazon-silk/)

So, Amazon has developed a device that when coupled with their extensive online content library is clearly aimed at the consumer/home market both in price and capabilities. I doubt we’ll be reading stories about the Kindle Fire being used as a Point-of-Sale system or for navigating commercial aircraft.

However, the Kindle Fire has more than enough processing power to provide for smooth video playback, fast app launches and a responsive user interface. The display is bright, has a higher pixel density than the iPad 2, and (hallelujah!) an anti-reflective screen.

If the battery life lives up to the claims it’s more than acceptable for consumer use and being able to charge the device from either the wall or a standard USB port makes it less likely you’ll have to carry, or hunt for a high-amperage charger when needed. Basically, you’ll be able to charge it with the same charger or cable you’re using for a number of other devices in your home or car.

The Kindle Fire comes with 8GB of storage space and no slot for extra memory. I believe that is going to be sufficient when you consider Amazon is also including free storage on their cloud system. To give you an idea I looked at memory usage on my iPad where I have over 350 apps installed and they only take up about 3GB of space. For further comparison I checked my T-Mobile G2 phone and found that 150 apps there resided in less than 700MB of memory.

This should leave sufficient room for the device to hold several hours of video, books and a lot of music, and provided there’s a WiFi signal available content can be removed from the device and new downloaded from your online library. Once you have purchased content from Amazon it is always available. I suspect that Amazon will charge for non-Amazon content that is uploaded to their service much as they do with their existing MP3 library service (the first 5GB of non-Amazon content is free and 20GB of storage costs $20/year with higher limits available.).

What may also aid in the Kindle Fire being a game-changer is their new “Silk” browser. Amazon is attempting to split the workload of the browser between their “EC2” cloud service and the device. They’ll be caching pages in their cloud service as well as making intelligent guesses (based on data gathered from all of their users) at what links you’re likely to follow and pre-downloading them to the device. They’ll also be optimizing (shrinking) graphics and other content so that it is only the quality and size necessary to look good on the Kindle Fire’s display. Companies like AOL, Opera, Skyfire and a few others have tried similar, albeit less complex, schemes in the past. If Amazon can succeed in speeding up the browsing experience it would become another significant differentiator between them and the competition.

Amazon’s choices of what features they didn’t include in the Kindle Fire are almost as important as the features they did. Amazon’s new tablet reportedly does not include:

  1. GPS or Accelerometer (G-Sensor)
  2. Bluetooth Radio
  3. 3G/4G Radio
  4. No Microphone
  5. No Cameras
  6. No Memory Expansion Slot
  7. No HDMI/mini HDMI port

All of these missing features were shaved to reduce cost, size/weight and battery usage. The only item on the list that surprises me is the Bluetooth radio as it would allow people to connect their wireless headphones and external speakers. Perhaps one can be added via the device’s mini-USB port, but that smacks of the same connectivity unfriendliness as the iPad Camera Connection kit for the iPad. Dante’ should have included “dongle usage and storage” as one of the “Circles of Hell” .

Some will complain about the lack of a 3G/4G option, but I don’t believe Amazon wanted to include a feature that would require their customers to contract with a third-party company. The cost of providing an all-inclusive 3G package like they offer on the existing 3G Kindle readers would have been too pricey. Customers don’t like metered service, contracts and, in general, mobile carriers. Even the best of the carriers is ranked pretty low on the American Consumer Satisfaction Index.

I’m sure AT&T’s backpedaling on the iPad 3G’s $30/month unlimited package (it’s now $25/month for 2GB) shortly after the iPad 3G was launched also had struck a nerve. It wouldn’t take many movie downloads to more than equal the price of the device in data charges. That may lead to unhappy customers.

On a side note, I’d suggest that anyone absolutely needing 3G/4G service for their Kindle Fire consider purchasing one of the standalone mobile hotspots. For roughly the same cost you could have 4G service (if available) and use it with a variety of devices. There are also some phones offered by the carriers that allow tethering as part of their data plan (My T-Mobile G2 phone is one of them).

The rest of the items are superfluous to the Kindle Fire’s intended use. The Amazon’s development team was not intent on replacing your computer, car navigation system, smartphone or point and shoot camera. The Kindle Fire is a relatively inexpensive device that is meant to fulfill the desire to watch TV shows, movies, play games, read books, newspapers and magazines, listen to music, browse the web and check things like email and personal calendars. My guess is that list covers about 85% of the use most tablets see today and a far higher-percentage of the use predicted for the hundreds of millions of people that haven’t yet purchased a tablet.

Certainly there are going to be people that want a device that has one or more of the features that Amazon did not include. Amazon is gambling that a lot of consumers are going to decide against paying $200 more for some of the fuller featured Android tablets or $300 – $450 extra for a WiFi iPad/3G iPad with GPS capability.

Presently, there’s only one successful tablet maker, Apple and the iPad. I’m looking forward to seeing how Apple reacts to the Kindle Fire. Their response is going to tell us a lot about Apple’s market strategy moving forward. Do they want to be a sales leader in the tablet marketplace or are they content to be the manufacturer of a highly regarded, high-margin luxury model? Steve Jobs once stated that the Macintosh’s market share was greater than that of Porsche, BMW or Mercedes and being the BMW or Mercedes of the computer market wasn’t a bad thing. We’ll soon get to see if that’s still the Apple strategy or if they’re willing to compete based on price in the tablet marketplace. With their locked-in content libraries (iTunes and the Apple App Store) proving to be a significant profit center for Apple the pressure to drop price or produce lower-end iPads might be very tempting.

While Apple is planning its next move the other Tablet makers need to decide in which segment of the market they want to compete. Google (and its licensees like Asus, Acer, Toshiba, Samsung and even Sony) trails both Amazon and Apple badly in availability of streaming video and other saleable content.

Even if Google can improve its content offerings it would be hard for their partner tablet manufacturers to reduce their margins of the units when they will be sharing their profits from the sale of content with Google or even Amazon’s own Android market offerings.

I expect we’ll see some of these guys pull the plug on their current offerings and others re-work their devices to go after the other potentially large tablet segment, productivity machines. Samsung, Asus, and Acer have always been adept at producing lower-cost versions of products. None has ever shown itself to be a market pioneer or provider of entertainment content. This may lead to some of them jumping ship from Android to Windows 8 and its desktop integration, but that’s over a year away and in a marketplace where the lifecycle of a device can be less than two months (HP TouchPad), a year is a long, long time.

Sony’s choices will also be interesting to watch. While their e-readers have been technically competent they haven’t really challenged Amazon or Barnes & Noble in that marketplace. They have two tablets and, of course, their own library of video and music content. In the past they have licensed that to vendors like Apple and Amazon. I doubt they’re going to pull that content from Apple or Amazon, two significant revenue sources; however tablets like the Kindle Fire do pose a threat to their portable gaming devices, and even to their PlayStation 3 consoles.

My guess, Sony will also focus their tablet offerings to compete in the productivity segment and perhaps work a revenue sharing deal with Amazon for content distribution through their PlayStation devices.

For those old-timers out there like me, I expect that the Kindle Fire could have the same impact on the tablet market as the Commodore 64 had on the personal computer industry back in 1982. Commodore’s CEO Jack Tramiel used to proudly claim that he made, “Computers for the masses, not the (upper) classes.

So, we may end up with the two of the highest rated companies for customer satisfaction in their respective markets going toe to toe (Apple is the highest rated Personal Computer Manufacturer and Amazon holds the top spot among online retailers according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index).

For those that enjoy watching the machinations, sparring and outright wars in the high technology industry this should be a great show.

Comments

  1. 1
    Geek says:

    An excellent analysis and unlike others who use the expression, fair and balanced.

    At $200 there will be no buyers regret and like the first 512k Mac there is immediate and simple functionality

    Amazon got it right.

  2. 2
    Sam P says:

    I’m also somewhat surprised at the lack of Bluetooth as well–there are several Bluetooth-Wifi chips available and I believe the cost increment is fairly small. I’d also have liked more battery life. Then again, they appear to have fairly ruthlessly pared the feature set for cost–the important thing they spent BOM on is the display.

  3. 3
    Bman says:

    The Kindle Fire is not the iPad. But it is a cool entry level tablet at a great price and the second generation Kindle Fire is the one that I think could really challenge the iPad.

    http://www.squidoo.com/the-new-kindle-fire

  4. 4
    Sam P says:

    Also, while Apple is somewhat of a premium PC producer, they’re actually around 3rd or 4th in unit shipments in the US, and probably in the top 10 for global shipments. In terms of revenue, they’re probably in top 2, and in terms of profits, probably no. 1.

  5. 5
    Woody says:

    $200 tablets already exist. This is not a tablet for the masses, it’s a tablet for Amazon Shoppers.

  6. 6
    Jim says:

    A number of serious obstacles stand in the way of my purchasing the Kindle Fire.
    Foremost, read the following article:
    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110929/23172216142/amazons-silk-browser-to-be-data-mining-jackpot.shtml
    Secondly, I travel outside of the United States and the limited access to downloads and streaming outside of the U.S. together with the limited non expandable memory make the Kindle Fire a tablet of limited usefulness to travelers. No mic and no camera= no possibility of Skype…

  7. 7
    Acupunc says:

    Seems like there is a lot of FUD going around the web about the Kindle Fire. My guess is that some competitors are scared by it and marshaling their online journalists/bloggers.

    All in all I think it has what 80% of “normal” users need/want in a tablet and I’m sure Amazon will be coming out with a larger version and/or a “deluxe” version for those that want all the bells and whistles. Nonetheless, this is the right setup to get the ball rolling however, we do still need some real world hands on experience to see just how well it actually functions.

  8. 8
    Aaron says:

    I find it a bit confusing as you say in the specifications run down it has 8GB of RAM but then talk about it as storage space for apps. I think you need to check your terms because that’s a big goof.

  9. 9
    Jim says:

    I think that Amazon has some questions to answer….notably those brought up in the article I linked to in my post above….and not rely on (as others have) simply calling it FUD or saying they are brought up by frightened competitors as an excuse to avoid answering serious concerns…

  10. 10
    Ken Schoenberg says:

    Aaron, many people now use storage space for holding apps…or parts of apps (and all of the data they generate). This can be done with either SD or fixed storage space. I haven’t seen any information yet on how much RAM or Internal Memory (which is what I believe you are referring to) Amazon has included. I’m going to take a guess based on the Blackberry Playbook that it will have 1GB, but even if it is 512MB there will be more than enough for over 100 apps (depending, of course, on the apps).
    I tried to keep the article a little less technical, but I think you’re right I should have probably explained it a better than I did.

    I’ll put it in the wait and see category and come Mid-November if there is an paucity of space for apps I will bring it up.
    Thank you!

  11. 11
    Jim says:

    Ken….Oh my….
    The storage space is for apps and books and movies…..
    Oh…my…
    The 8GB on board space is not expandable as no SD (or micro SD) slot is available…and 8GB is not alot at all…
    Yes..the cloud when you have WiFi in the US…5Gb…
    Don’t try the cloud without WiFi …Not accessible…

  12. 12
    Jim says:

    and….music….

  13. 13
    Ken Schoenberg says:

    Jim, the cloud is a lot more than 5GB. It is unlimited for anything you purchase/rent from Amazon’s video, music or book stores. The 5GB is non-Amazon stuff and to expand to 20gb costs $20/year. The 20GB does not include Amazon products.

  14. 14
    Ken Schoenberg says:

    @Jim – The answers to most of what that article refer to will be in the Amazon terms of service and privacy agreement. If it’s not something you can live with then I would suggest not buying a Kindle. The data they have at their disposal is a subset of what your ISP grabs…or for that matter what is seemingly being tracked by our friends using those lovely permanent cookies. Privacy concerns are real and justified, but I’m not seeing where Amazon’s Silk browser is really any different than what Opera, Palm, Skyfire or Google with their mobile optimization are doing as well. I believe the only way the privacy issues are going to be sorted out is by federal law.

    I travel extensively as well and actually find it very easy to obtain WiFi access wherever I go. 8GB should handle the vast majority of plane flights as well, but if it doesn’t then the Kindle Fire just may not be for you.

    One of the tougher lessons for some consumers, including myself, is that our own personal needs and desires may not be the needs or desires of the targeted customer set for that device. That doesn’t mean the device is no good…it just means it is no good for you (or me).

  15. 15
    Jim says:

    According to the article Amazon is grabbing much more information than you allude to. Real privacy concerns that is much more extensive and detailed than has been taken by others until now.

  16. 16
    Ken Schoenberg says:

    @Jim, I read the article. He says it’s the same info that your ISP can grab. Actually, it’s a subset because it’s only the sites you visit on the Kindle Fire, or while using the Kindle Fire browser to be more exact.
    What is Amazon going to know about their users that your ISP won’t know? As I said people have a right to be concerned about privacy online, but to single out Amazon over a number of other people with the same, or greater, access to the data is almost nonsensical.
    There’s another issue…the vast majority of people just don’t seem to care…if you want information on someone…you don’t have to dig much harder than facebook, linked in and a variety of other services where they provide willingly.

  17. 17
    Amadeus says:

    The issue that Aaron brought up earlier hasn’t really been addressed and is very much valid. It’s not a matter of the accessibility of the article, but rather a matter of incorrect usage of technical terms.

    First consider: “The Kindle Fire comes with 8GB of storage space and no slot for extra RAM. I believe that is going to be sufficient…” The implication here is that the terms “storage space” and “RAM” are interchangeable, which is not the case. This might just be a matter of unusual (and therefore misleading) wording.

    “I looked at RAM usage on my iPad where I have over 350 apps installed and they only take up about 3GB of space.” Now this one is actually outright incorrect. You would not look at “RAM usage” to check how much storage space your apps are taking, since RAM and the actual storage space are separate pieces of hardware. RAM is used for running programs, while storage space is used for storing them.

    It’s obvious from his comment in response to Aaron’s that the author understands that there is a distinction between RAM and storage space. However, it would be nice if the issues within the article could be cleared up.

  18. 18
    Ken Schoenberg says:

    Amadeus, you’re right and the text has been changed. It never hurts to use the commonly accepted terms for a device. People can use the 8GB to store apps and their associated data…but to be correct the applications themselves run within the given RAM memory of the device.

    All that being said…I believe that the Kindle Fire will have more than enough memory/storage resources to run and store at least 100 apps…and probably many more.

    Now, if we start taking the device apart…we’ll also see that the components that make up the “RAM”, Internal Storage and/or SD Storage are all going to be called some type of “RAM” chip. :)

  19. 19
    James says:

    @Ken Schoenberg – “Now, if we start taking the device apart…we’ll also see that the components that make up the “RAM”, Internal Storage and/or SD Storage are all going to be called some type of “RAM” chip.”

    You’re confusing solid state with RAM, they’re all solid state components but Flash memory is used for storage and is separate from RAM.

    Maybe some day when they develop non-volatile RAM that can be used for storage without power then they may all be types of RAM but that isn’t the case yet.

  20. 20
    Ian Lim says:

    I put this to you.

    This is Amazon’s version of the Apple iPad/iPhone/iPad. It’s an Amazon device made primarily for connecting to the Amazon “media-verse”. It’s for those users who are part of this ecosystem and are happy to live within it. You can download Amazon Ebooks, Amazon Movies, Amazon Music……. sound familiar ???? :)

    I think most of the Gadgeteer family are in some ways beyond the market that Amazon is targeting with this device. It’s squarely aimed at the “mum and dad” market, who don’t know about bit torrent, video encoders, rippers etc and haven’t even thought of a tablet or what they can do with it.

    These user will not be bit torrenting the whole season of a TV show in HD and sideloading it their Fire. They’ll be downloading it off the Amazon store.

    I’m guessing that and Amazon movie/series formatted to Fire compatible screen size and resolution is substantially smaller than the 750Mb + that our movie collection are probably in.

    If you buy a movie/song/book, use it and delete it it’s backed up in the Amazon Cloud and when you want it back you can just retrieve it. I suspect that this is why ( as well as price point ), there’s only 8GB with no SD expansion. This should suffice for a citizen of the Amazon “mediaverse”.

    Do we hear the average user complaining that they can’t expand their iPhone/iPod/iPad…nope. They work fine under the constraints of the Apple “mediaverse”.

    The Fire will NOT suit all users and is built to a price point to get people to join Amazon “family” . Smart move on Amazon’s part. Lock ‘em in.

    Will I be buying on….no… it doesn’t suit MY needs ..(but then again it’s not available internationally anyway ( YET ! ) )

    Just my 2.2c ( with Australian GST ) worth .

  21. 21
    Ian Lim says:

    In short, as I’d expect from Gadgeteers we are too hung up on the technical details and ignoring the business/marketing details :)

  22. 22
    Ken Schoenberg says:

    Ian, I know a few Gadgeteers that are buying them…There’s a beauty in max/min on hardware (getting the maximum utility out of the minimum hardware). For a company that wasn’t known for hardware or consumer products they Kindle line has been pretty fantastic to date…it just does what it is meant to do very well. Apple has also released some pretty good products in the past…not because of the leading-edge components inside, but because of the design and functionality the package created.

  23. 23
    babyfacemagee says:

    At a $199 price point with the amount of content that Amazon has to sell it’s hard to deny the Kindle Fire will be a competitor to the iPad in many ways. http://kindlefireforums.com says that Amazon is already starting to lock up exclusive content deals.

  24. 24
    Ken Schoenberg says:

    Was reading an article by Chris Ziegler of “The Verge/This is my next…” He took an interesting look at how Amazon may be the first company that really will benefit from Google’s “Open Sourcing” of Android.

    It’s another look at how Amazon has minimized the cost of the device in order to best hit their target marketplace.

    Here’s the link if you’re interested.
    http://thisismynext.com/2011/09/28/editorial-amazon-android-google/

  25. 25
    Eddy says:

    Also remember, content just like price, is king. And the Kindle Fire has both of them.

  26. 26

    They will more than make up the minor loss on hardware with sales of software and services I am sure.

  27. 27
    Joe Cassara says:

    Great Jack Tramiel reference! +1

  28. 28
    10basetom says:

    Don’t underestimate Mr. Bezos — he is one scrappy, brilliant man:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203914304576627102996831200.html

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