Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Amazon announces its new Kindle Fire tablet: 7-inch display, Android OS, cloud storage, and a low $199 will present a real alternative to Apple's iPad

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad back in late January of last year, I was a little disappointed in the product (my expectations were too high), and frankly wondered if it would be a hit. This site was certainly betting that between mobile and tablets that we were entering a new era of digital publishing. I was obviously wrong to be so conservative in my estimate of the prospects for the success of the iPad.
So here we are 20 months later and Jeff Bezos has just introduced the Kindle Fire, a $199 tablet that dare not mention its OS name – Android. And that is probably a brilliant move because, after all, Apple markets the iPhone and the iPad just by their name. (You don't hear Apple say the iPad is an iOS device, it's an iPad._

I'm sure most TNM readers interested in the Kindle Fire already know the tech details, but for others here they are in a nutshell: 7-inch touchscreen display, 14.6 ounces in weight (one third less than the iPad), a dual core CPU, Android OS, 8 GB of storage with free cloud storage.

The big detail, of course, is that it will cost only $199, and one can pre-order it today for release on November 15.

Here is the brand new Kindle Fire ad from Amazon:

Andy Ihnatko, columnist for the Sun Times, is at the Amazon event as I write this and tweets:
"I'm not sure it's a head to head device (iPad). Customers will tell us." Dave Limp, VP of Kindle.
I think that quote is very telling. A 7-inch display tablet is not a head-to-head competitor for the iPad, as BlackBerry and Samsung can tell you.

But although I rarely go in for predictions – there is plenty of that on the tech sites – I think the Kindle Fire will be a run away success. Why not? If you were willing to spend $150 on a black & white Kindle why not $199 on a color tablet that can replace your old Kindle. They will, indeed, sell millions of these.

But it is still an Android tablet, so what will this mean for publishers? Most of the publications available for Android are there because of Zinio and other replica makers. Will this spur the creation of more Android tablet publications?

I don't know about that simply because of the Kindle Fire's unique storage proposition: the device will give you 8 gigs of storage – Apple doesn't even offer an iPad will this little storage. One issue of Wired is at least a half a gig, one would run out of storage pretty fast were it not for the fact that Amazon is offering cloud storage for free.

Cloud storage, though, is great for text versions of books, MP3s, and doesn't hurt streaming, of course. But what about magazines and newspapers?

And here is the issue that I can't seem to get past: with little storage on the device itself, and with cloud storage probably where users will keep most of their media, it would seem that smaller sized replica editions could be what is the norm on the Kindle Fire – yet, replicas would be very hard to read on a small display tablet. My experience with both the PlayBook and XOOM, for instance, is that the experience is too much like reading on a mobile device (painful).

The covers of the magazines look nice on a 7-inch display, as you can see above. But text? Remember that most print magazines are 11 inches tall – that's almost twice the size of the display of the Kindle Fire. That means your fonts will be half the size if you produce a replica editions. Replica editions are already hard to read on the iPad's display which is less than 8 inches in size in portrait. (Remember, display sizes measure the diagonal length of the display, not its width or height.)

That is why I think many Kindle Fire owners will find their tablet great for books (except outdoors, of course – guess Amazon will have to stop those digs at Apple about their displays, huh?), as well as movies and music. Surfing the web should also be an improvement over a mobile phone experience, though not as easy as on a larger screened tablet.

One solution some publishers and developers might consider is to move forward with Kindle Editions: these publications will be able to be accessed on all Kindle devices, even the Kindle Fire.

But one company's digital publishing solution that seems to not work well here is Adobe's. Magazine apps built with the Adobe Digital Publishing platform are often criticized by iPad owners as being too large in size – a couple of magazines can start to fill up a 16 GB iPad pretty quickly. What will the situation be when the tablet only has 8 GB of storage and must depend on the cloud?

For now this is what I would say about the Kindle Fire: it is the first Android driven tablet that I would consider buying (I've actually already pre-ordered one), the price alone makes it worth checking out. The negatives (7-inch display, lack of tablet optimized Android apps, small internal storage) are still an obstacle to me saying that the Kindle Fire is real competition of the iPad as my preferred tablet choice.

But I can see lots of consumers choosing to try the Kindle Fire rather than spending $200 more for an iPad. Times are tough, after all.

One question that always accompanies an Apple product introduction is "when will it ship?" For Apple, there is usually a U.S. ship date announced, followed by a European or Asian date that follows a few weeks later (to the grumbling of some European consumers).

As you read above, the Kindle Fire will be released on November 15. Well, kind of.

Look at the website – the home page is promoting the new lower prices on the older Kindle models. The French site doesn't even show the Kindle on its home page at all.

Americans tend to me a bit provincial when it comes to thinking about other nations, but I know TNM readers are not that way. A post about a German magazine's new iPad app immediately draws in new German readers.

So if I were the head of digital publishing at Impresa or Axel Springer what would I make of the Kindle Fire and its effect on my app development decisions?

Another point about non-U.S. markets: one would assume that a $199 would serious effect what other tablet makers can charge for their products. The $499 price Apple gets for the iPad is already killing off other tablets that can either not meet this price, or do, but still can't get consumers to stop coveting the iPad. So will $199 be the new price floor? Maybe not if the Kindle Fire is only available in the U.S.

Part of the reason for the limited availability has to do with Amazon's devices being dependent on connectivity and cloud storage.


Tablazines said...

WHile I'm sure the Kindle Fire will eat away at some of Apple's sales, I'd be more worried if I was B&N. Today's announcements take direct aim at both their Nook and e-ink products.

This will be the first Android tablet I'll wind up purchasing...

I'm looking into how I can get my publications in the Amazon App store.

Douglas Hebbard said...

From the developer side, my one questions is what flavor of Android OS are we looking at? Can I develop once for Honeycomb and expect my app to work on the Kindle Fire?

I will definitely be keeping a sharp eye out on the reaction from the developer community.

BDalton said...

While this impacts the Nook, no question about it, does this really push Android forward? I don't know.

Tablazines said...

From what I heard it's Android 2.2 with a custom Amazon skin, yet again helping to keep Android fragmented.