Since the announcement of the iPad, manufacturers have scrambled to get a slice of the tablet market. Yet still, the iPad remains the only true success story. The Playbook was a bust, early tablets were poorly designed, and even Honeycomb, which I thought would be a strong contender against the iPad, has struggled to catch on. The iPad remains the sole product which defines the tablet space and Apple remains the market leader. The problem with gaining headway in the tablet market has been because there is no other company with a strong base like Apple. Customers have limited loyalty to Samsung over Asus or Acer or Motorola, they are all generic OEMs (even if some make far better products than others like Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1). The iPad has the Cult of Apple behind it in a way no other tablet manufacturer does. This may be why Amazon can succeed where others have failed, because they have generated a similar brand loyalty under the Kindle moniker.
Amazon has finally brought their answer to the iPad: the Kindle Fire. The new tablet is a 7-inch affair, sporting a dual core processor and heavily modified version of Android 2.3. The device is not meant to mirror the iPad, but compete more with specialized tablets like the Nook Color from Barnes and Noble. The device is notably devoid of cameras, 3G or GPS, microphones at the like. While spartan on extras like those, it has helped the Kindle Fire maintain a price of $199 At this price, the Kindle Fire is an insanely great deal for a well-rounded Android tablet. It’s not Honeycomb, but it doesn’t need to be.
The Kindle Fire runs under a heavily modified version of Android 2.3 meant to quickly integrate Amazon’s services. Kindle ebooks, the Amazon Music and Video store, and Amazon’s customized Android App marketplace are all quickly accessible on the device. Note that productivity software is depreciated (though I’m sure some Office suite will be released). Even the email client wasn’t mentioned during the conference. Amazon isn’t trying to make this a PC replacement, it’s not a post-PC device. It’s a pure media device and Amazon isn’t striving for anything more than that. The device has 8GB of local storage with free access to Amazon’s cloud services to back up purchases and files.
Speaking of the cloud, one of the Kindle Fire’s most unique features is its Silk browser. Amazon calls this a cloud browser. Some of the processing for webpages is done by the tablet’s internal hardware, but much of it is done by Amazon’s remote Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) servers. This by itself is not very novel — Opera Mobile uses server-side compression for webpages on mobile devices — but this framework is more intelligent by consciously selecting what content should be processed in what area. It’s a really cool idea though that should make web browsing an impressive feat on the device.
The Kindle Fire looks to be the first tablet since the iPad that really has a shot. Ironically, that was done by being a wholly different kind of device. It’s smaller, lighter, and more focused on being a device for media consumption. Plus, it’s at a rockstar price.
Also announced was a new basic Kindle for only $79 and two touch screen, e-ink Kindles for $119 and one with 3G for $149. Amazon has learned how to sell premium at a value price. I’m pretty excited for the Kindle Fire. Wait until November for its release.