The Kindle Fire: So What’s the Point?

September 11th, 2012

This weekend, Amazon quickly responded to a huge customer protest about putting ads on the lock and home screens of the new Kindle Fires. Even though the upgraded lineup comes across as a good value as far as price is concerned, it’s understandable buyers would chafe at having to confront ads on a device that’s already meant to serve as a front end to Amazon’s products and services.

Well, Amazon relented, with a $15 surcharge to ditch the ads. All right, I suppose they are to be commended for making a bad situation better.

But, other than price, what does a Kindle Fire offer that would make it a compelling alternative to an Apple iPad or Google Android tablet? That’s a question that’s really hard to answer, unless, of course, your primary need for a tablet is to acquire Amazon content. If that’s the case, a Kindle may be a good buy. This may be especially true for the traditional Kindles, which offer really crisp display of black and white text. At least if your primary interest is reading books, a Kindle, starting at $69, may be the way to go.

When you go beyond reading digital books, and perhaps watching movies and TV shows on a Kindle Fire, where do you go next? Well, to use Amazon’s storefront for other products and services, and the range is surprisingly extensive. From groceries (in some cities) to lawn mowers, TV sets, personal computers and, yes, even an Apple iPad, you’ll find a rich selection at Amazon. Imagine ordering an iPad from your Kindle Fire. But whatever choice you make, another sales rings up at Amazon, and that’s why the Kindle Fire is less expensive that other tablets.

Well, maybe not the Google Nexus 7. But Google’s aggressive price for that product is based on the same assumptions as Amazon, that you’ll buy content, perhaps apps, and thus make up the difference. This is sort of the tact that printer makers take. Sell the printer cheap, but earn profits from the consumables that are sufficient to compensate and then some.

On the other hand, the new iPad, though heavier to lug around, offers a really good digital reading experience. More to the point, you aren’t tethered to Apple’s iBooks either. You can always install Amazon’s Kindle software, and embrace their e-book ecosystem.

What’s more, if your tablet needs extend beyond consuming multimedia content and digital books, you’ll want a rich selection of apps. Amazon doesn’t do very well in that regard, and the Android app repertoire is mostly smartphone-based. Those apps don’t look very well on tablets, which may be one key reason, among many, that Android tablets have not been very successful in the marketplace.

When it comes to usability, email and Internet access take second place on a Kindle Fire, although the Silk browser is said to be improved. Amazon is still using a highly modified OS based on an older version of Android, which may limit touch responsiveness, although the new 1.2GHz dual-core processor on the HD models may compensate by brute force alone. Amazon is to be commended for installing stereo speakers with Dolby audio, although you can’t expect much in the way of decent sound on a small tablet.

It all goes to demonstrate the emphasis on media consumption, and for that purpose, I suppose a Kindle Fire is suitable, particularly if you buy the higher resolution HD version. I also expect the Kindles will fare reasonably well in the marketplace, particularly during the holiday season. Amazon has roughly 140 million customers, which is a large audience of potential buyers. The Kindles are also sold through some independent resellers such as the Staples office supply chain. The potential audience isn’t quite as wide as Apple’s, but there’s enough opportunity to move millions of Kindles to eager buyers.

On the other hand, Apple still fares better when it comes to the highly integrated and relatively easy-to-use OS, consistently high performance, and the rich selection of apps. Yes, I suppose some potential buyers aren’t enamored of Apple’s closed ecosystem, and might wish for a few more options that Apple would never permit in the App Store. But that’s not Apple’s audience. For the rest of us, the selection is fine, the email works quite well, and the Safari browser just keeps getting better and better.

When it comes to using someone else’s digital books, there is, as I said, a Kindle app for the iOS, and even a Nook app from Barnes & Noble. Indeed, I wonder how much money these companies earn through sales from an Apple mobile gadget compared to their own media tablets.

If the existing iPad is a little too large for convenient reading, Apple may offer a solution soon, in the form of a smaller iPad. The rumored 7.85-inch model, allegedly sporting a 4:3 aspect ratio, will deliver far more screen real estate that a widescreen Kindle Fire or Android tablet. Yes, the latter may be better for movies, but the iPad is superior for most everything else.

So I ask again whether a Kindle is a worthy alternative to the iPad. It seems to come up rather short.

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2 Responses to “The Kindle Fire: So What’s the Point?”

  1. Marty says:

    Who would buy one of these anyways??? Amazing the things people will buy.

  2. dfs says:

    I agree with all of Gene’s points. But let’s admit that the Kindle Fire does have two things going for it. a.) The iPad is HEAVY. Hold it in one hand or cradle it in your arm for a long session, such as reading a book, and pretty soon you have one very tired hand or arm. b.) In a lot of situations (outdoors, or in somewhere like an airport where you can’t control the lighting) the iPad’s glossy screen can truly become a nuisance. For both reasons, on a recent vacation I really became jealous of my wife’s Kindle. A smaller iPad would help a.), but no doubt Apple will cling like grim death to that glossy screen. Considerations of comfort and convenience really do help sell products.

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