At this time Amazon has expanded their hardware offerings to include three types of Kindle. The Kindle eReader is still going strong, while the Kindle Fire HD and new Kindle Fire HDX justifiably occupy their space atop the Android tablet market. The release of the HDX also beings in a lot of great features that users have been requesting since Amazon’s first foray into tablets.
Improvements added to the Kindle Fire HDX over the Kindle Fire HD go beyond the incremental changes that we would take as a matter of course. There is the expected power increase, bumping it up to a 2.2 GHz Quad-Core CPU, as well as slightly improved battery life, but that is only the start of things. The HDX is also lighter, has more cameras (Front-facing added to the 7” model, Front- and Rear-facing now included on the 8.9”), and features a higher resolution screen with greater pixel density than the iPad 3.
The biggest benefits aren’t available from hardware specs, though. Fire OS brings a lot to the table. The most-hyped addition is the Mayday button. This will connect you instantly with tech support and allow they to walk you through any problem you might have, giving them access to your screen and the ability to highlight various portions of it to point out important functions.
Perhaps most important to device adoption is the expanded enterprise support that Amazon has put in place. A lot of people have been using the Kindle Fire at work and Amazon has taken steps to make it more useful for that purpose. There is now VPN support and MDM available through companies like Citrix. It makes for a much friendlier BYOD offering.
The existing Kindle Fire HD remains an excellent tablet in its own right, despite not measuring up on paper to its successor. The fact that the HD remains only $139 (8.9” – $229) compared to the HDX’s $229 (8.9” – $379) helps to assume that it isn’t going to be abandoned right away. Still, if you have the money and the inclination then the HDX is definitely the superior product.
The eReader side of Amazon’s Kindle line has been fading away in the last year or two. It doesn’t get much spotlight now that there isn’t much room to grow. Still, they did recently update the Kindle Paperwhite to a new version and find a few ways to make it even better.
The improvements in the new Paperwhite are small, but noticeable. It is a bit faster, somewhat more responsive, and contains a better light than the original version. Most importantly they have evened out the lighting a bit around the edges. There are unlikely to be any complaints about the way things look now. While they may not be betting everything on eReaders anymore, Amazon hasn’t left Kindle readers behind.
Obviously the Nook Tablet hasn’t done quite as well as Barnes & Noble hoped it would. While the hardware was a definite step up from the Kindle Fire from the start, their inability to bundle the same quantity and quality of non-eBook content had an effect on adoption rates. Now, with the Kindle Fire HD poised to bring Amazon back into the front of the Android tablet market for the first time since Google announced the Nexus 7, Barnes & Noble has come up with some much stronger competition.
The Nook HD is priced at $199, just like the Kindle Fire HD. It has a higher resolution (1440 x 900) and a smaller hard drive (though a 16GB model can bring that spec even with the Kindle Fire’s basic model for only $30 more). The processor on the new Nook is 1.3GHz, which gives it a slight edge in power as well. It even has a microSD slot, which is one of the features Amazon seems to be making a conscious effort to avoid. Overall we’re looking at a nearly identical device with small points of superiority here and there.
There are a few points where the Kindle Fire HD still stands alone, however, and they may be particularly important. Since the major purpose of this variety of tablet is media consumption, we have to assume that there is some video viewing planned for the average user.
The Kindle Fire HD’s Dolby sound system and stereo speakers are widely considered to be the best tablet sound system on the market today regardless of the device size or price. That’s a big step away from the old Kindle Fire’s lackluster audio performance and will be attractive.
The Kindle’s superior wireless capabilities and larger hard drive only serve to push it further ahead. If the goal is to enjoy the best possible viewing experience, the ability to stay connected, download quickly, and store more will obviously come in handy.
The deciding factor as far as overall success, however, is going to still be the content ecosystem. A media tablet that has nothing in the way of media to serve up is clearly unappealing. Amazon has the lead on this, having both a head start and a huge presence in practically every aspect of digital media distribution. Barnes & Noble is stepping up to at least stay competitive until they can develop a more robust selection, though. Nook Cloud and Nook Video are good examples, even if they are still a bit unfinished-feeling.
While I don’t think that the Nook HD can necessarily compete on even terms with the Kindle Fire HD for the price, the Nook HD+ might be able to pull it off. The 9” Nook HD+ offers comparable hardware to the Kindle Fire HD 8.9” for $30 less than Amazon’s $299 asking price. It’s easier to overlook a couple shortcomings for a discount.
Whether or not they can pull ahead with an offering like this remains to be seem. Nothing about the new Nook tablets stands out as a major downside except perhaps the limited Barnes & Noble ecosystem. This launch demonstrates a commitment to stay in the market for a while, so maybe even that will see rapid improvements as time goes on. It’s good to see a situation like this where nobody can pull ahead as the clearly superior option.
Ok, so as much as the Microsoft tablet announcement seemed potentially poised to do something even more unsettling to the small tablet market than Amazon’s $199 Kindle Fire pricing could accomplish, the danger has mostly passed. There is no way that either of the versions of Microsoft’s new Surface tablet are going to be priced comparably to consumption-specific tablets any time soon.
They do bring a few things to the table that might make people think twice about bringing anything else into an academic situation, though. That could be bad news for the Kindle given Amazon’s emphasis on academic applications for their devices. While many students couldn’t afford something like an iPad in addition to their computer, a tablet like the Surface has the potential to let students do without a computer while still retaining much of the functionality of a Kindle Fire type of device.
Looking specifically at the ARM-driven Windows RT model, which will be the first to become available, there are really interesting things going on. No, it will not have anything approximating an E Ink display, but it will come with a 10.6” HD screen. That’s going to make a big difference for everything from movie viewing to game playing.
On top of that, the device integrates two digitizers. One of those handles normal touch behavior while the other is specific to stylus contact. In the event you are writing with a stylus, the Surface knows to ignore your fingers so that you can write naturally. This will be huge for everything from in-text annotation to general note taking. Comfortable one-handed scribbling on the go might finally be possible on a tablet.
For media, the Microsoft tablet will have outputs so that you can put your video on an HDTV or monitor as desired. This was an important enough feature that they practically opened the reveal by talking about how there would be a Netflix app available at launch. It is also something that the Kindle Fire has definitely been missing.
It will, as always, come down to price. Right now we know nothing besides that the Surface for Windows RT will be priced close to comparable ARM tablet alternatives. That probably means that it will run at least $400. In that case, Amazon has little to worry about among their primary customers.
The biggest concern is going to be when Amazon reveals their new Kindle Fire later this year. A 10.1” Kindle Fire would be nice, but if it doesn’t significantly undercut both the iPad 2 and the Surface then there will be trouble. I love the tight integration that Amazon has given their tablet, but when you have something that is literally intended to be a complete PC you don’t need that.
The best we can hope for is that Amazon will stick to their undercutting strategy and market the newer, larger model of the Kindle Fire for something like $250 to maintain its position as a valid alternative for the consumer on a budget.
The most recent development in tablet technology seems to be coming from Nvidia this time around. Rob Csonger, a VP from the company, explained that the new line of tablets they are developing will be able to keep costs down in the $199 range, allowing them to compete directly with the Kindle Fire on price.
The Nvideo Kai platform, which incidentally is unlikely to be the final name of the new product when it is released, is meant to take advantage of a lot of the Tegra 3 design. Low power consumption, inexpensive components, and a lot of power for the money are characteristic of the chipset. While this could bring around a fair amount of interest, given that the Kindle Fire has driven prices down on 7″ tablets to a point where other products are having trouble competing, it remains to be seen who will take advantage of the new technology and when.
Many are speculating that the first major offering to make use of Kai will be the Google / Asus project that we have heard a great deal of speculation about. Google’s I/O conference is coming up and would make a perfect occasion to present such a device. They already had to set back its release when they were unable to make a decent tablet around the $200 price range to compete with the Kindle Fire. That would make a Kai tablet ideal for both Google and Nvidia to show off what they can do and perhaps pull some of the Android market away from Amazon’s control.
There isn’t anything to say that Amazon would be unable or unwilling to make use of the same technology, naturally. They are going to be facing stiff competition when introducing a larger Kindle Fire tablet that will undoubtedly draw comparisons with the market-leading iPad and having the extra power that a quad-core design offers might well be important. Toward the end of the year, when the first Windows 8 tablets are released, this will be even more important. Android is nice, but it doesn’t quite measure up in terms of performance right now so every advantage is welcome.
No matter how much some people might want it to be, this will not spell the end of the Kindle Fire. At best, it will help keep all-purpose Android tablets relevant as we move forward into a world of far more intense competition. The option to buy larger, cheaper, more powerful tablets is likely to be appealing to many people. These won’t replace tablets designed for pure consumption like the Kindle Fire unless they can severely undercut on price, which they can’t, but it would be even worse for the Kindle Fire to kill off the rest of the Android tablet market than it would be for the Android tablet market to shut out the Kindle Fire. Competition is good for the consumer.
We are well aware that Amazon has come to completely dominate the Android tablet market with their Kindle Fire and that this has been accomplished in an amazingly short amount of time. Unfortunately for Amazon, market research firm IDC has released a report of the Android tablet market shrinking at a noticeably higher rate than the tablet market in general. This could prove problematic as a trend, but the situation may be even more complicated than that.
IDC’s report indicates a bit of a slump as we come into 2012. Total shipments for tablets are coming in below expectations, especially compared to the previous quarter’s record breaking sales numbers. Apple’s new shipments are up to 68% of tablet sales compared to just 54% at the end of 2011, indicating that Android has lost a bit of traction despite the lack of reason to get excited about the iPad 3. Much of this, according to IDC, may be attributed to Apple’s keeping the iPad 2 around as a cheaper alternative to their newest offerings.
Where many are taking this as a death sentence for the Kindle Fire and Amazon’s tablet prospects more generally, there have also been issues raised with IDC’s research methods. Namely, they are making their determinations based off of total shipments from factories to warehouses and stores. This is itself a problematic point to raise since it calls into question IDC’s analysis of Q4 2011, but does make sense. There were obviously going to be plenty of retailers that still has stock left over from the holiday season, so maybe it would be smart to account for that. Even so, sales almost certainly dipped compared to the iPad.
Looking forward to the year ahead, this doesn’t start Amazon off on a high note. The Kindle Fire was just their first generation product, however, and we are expecting the next generation in a matter of months. It will likely be larger, or at least have the option of being larger, and will definitely be more powerful. Pricing can be expected to remain highly competitive. This is certain to lead to a resurgent interest in the Android segment of the market even leaving aside such strong offerings as the new Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 and Google’s anticipated budget tablet.
Larger screen or not, it is hard to say in advance if Amazon has a Kindle Fire 2 vs iPad 3 comparison in mind. It is even harder to tell if this would be a smart move at this time. Both Android and iOS sales may be hit hard toward the end of this year with the introduction of Windows 8 tablets to the competition. Since these will certainly be all-purpose tablets along the lines of the iPad, it might be more effective for Amazon to continue building the Kindle Fire’s niche as a consumption device that serves specific needs at a lower price than the alternatives.
The bottom line is that right this minute it is doubtful Amazon has anything to be worried about with regard to the Kindle Fire. Things are going well even if there’s a bit of a slump right now. The big challenge will come later this year when Android is hit from both sides by iOS and Windows 8 and consumers are left to decide which will be their long-term choice.
There are loads of new 7” tablets coming out lately that have their eyes on the Kindle Fire’s success. The common theme seems to be having either slightly higher specs and a few of the features that people complain the Kindle Fire lacks, or a lower price point that doesn’t preclude basically functioning in the ways that matter. As I’ve mentioned numerous times here, companies who are looking at just the hardware or just the price and picking these out as roads to success are missing the point.
Samsung’s first attempt at a 7” tablet was not precisely groundbreaking. For a smaller device, the Galaxy Tab was impressive and did practically anything you might want a tablet to do. It packed more power and features into that small package than any other Android tablet I can think of to come out in 2010. Still, as a device intended to compete with the iPad, it didn’t take off. Later, with the Kindle Fire announced, it became practically irrelevant. Nobody is going to want to consider a tablet running twice the price of the most popular thing around unless it is truly amazing.
Now Samsung is coming out with the more realistically competitive 7” Galaxy Tab 2 and there’s reason to give it serious thought as a choice. It isn’t amazing, but at $250 it also isn’t overpriced and the value is impressively high for what you pay.
The new Galaxy Tab 2 is slightly thinner and lighter than the Kindle Fire. We’re not talking about the most powerful tablet on the market, with a 1GHz processor and 1GB of RAM, but it should do the job. It comes with 8GB internal storage as well as an expandable memory slot that can allow for an extra 32GB. As a perk, new users will get a free year of 50GB Dropbox storage. There are dual cameras, though the front-facing is mediocre at best and even the rear-facing isn’t anything to get excited about. The Galaxy Tab 2 does run Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0.3) and is the first Samsung offering to do so, which may be a draw for some.
Overall, we’re talking about something that beats the Kindle Fire point for point across the board in hardware specs. That isn’t exactly exciting on its own, given that the Kindle Fire was never intended to impress in terms of raw power, but the fact that there aren’t really any missing features besides perhaps an HDMI slot is worth keeping in mind. The screen is actually somewhat less clear than the Kindle’s, but not enough to get upset about. The consideration is going to come down to hardware versus software and media.
If we’re going to talk about a Kindle Fire vs Galaxy Tab 2 comparison, we have to consider the overall experience. The Kindle Fire, in addition to featuring a $200 price tag, a heavily streamlined UI, and integration with Amazon’s digital services, can take advantage of the Amazon.com movie library and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library in a way that the Samsung tablet can’t. Amazon has also proven more reliable about their firmware updates than Samsung, whose older customers still have not been able to upgrade to Android 4.0. If these conveniences don’t weigh you toward the Kindle Fire then a 7” Galaxy Tab 2 might be exactly what you’re looking for.
Amazon’s Appstore for Android is not exclusively available for the Kindle Fire, but at this point that is the device that matters. The relatively new media tablet already holds the majority share of the Android tablet market and has proven more or less untouchable by comparably priced hardware competition so far. The secret, if it can really be said to be one, is in the content. Amazon has just about anything one might want to consume through the Fire ready to go at a moment’s notice with the push of a button. Nobody else can come close for the price.
When some major shortcoming is addressed in the design of their ecosystem, it is therefore worth taking note of. Like the recent announcement that developers now having access to the option of in-app purchasing, completely changing the potential for ongoing revenue from Kindle Fire owners. This is a long-time staple of iOS app market that is well overdue here.
Until this point, Amazon affiliated app creators have earned a reported $0.89 for every $1.00 they earn selling the same offering through the iTunes App Store. That is despite the lack of ongoing microtransactions supported by Amazon. For comparison, the same app being sold through Google Play will earn an average of $0.23 for every dollar its creator catches via iTunes.
Opening up more possibilities for developers to make money through Android will put Amazon in a better position to build the best app selection available. Currently, in sheer numbers, they are lagging behind both Apple and Google significantly. By allowing options that don’t involve advertisements or unpopular third party tools, Amazon is making the Kindle Fire an even more attractive option.
This does open up some potential drama for Kindle Fire owners, of course. The biggest draw of Amazon’s 1-Click purchasing system is that it is so easy you almost don’t notice you’re spending money. Combine this with apps that are designed to offer quick and easy purchases and you may well have a recipe for personal financial disaster.
Many will recall an incident in the earlier days of the iPad when an eight year old girl made news buying Smurfberries to speed up her in-app play. The bad publicity from this and similar events is what brought about the iPad’s detailed array of Parental Controls.
Amazon hopes to avoid similar efforts by having fewer loopholes in their existing restrictions. Kindle Fire users have the ability to block in-app purchasing entirely, password protect the process using their Amazon account password, or create a PIN to unlock purchasing. Between these choices, there should be little room for complaint about accidental shopping unless users simply don’t know how to access the controls.
For reference, you can manipulate Kindle Fire In-App Purchasing settings by going to the Apps tab from the Home screen, clicking on the Store, and opening the Settings menu. Since all purchasing appears to be routed through this store app, it makes sense to find these settings here.
Let’s face it, Amazon’s implementation of Android has to be a sore point for Google. The most popular Android tablet ever, the Kindle Fire, is completely cut off from everything Google has developed to try to integrate and monetize the OS. Is it any surprise that they would want to come out with something in the same size and price range that would blow the Kindle tablet option out of the water? Unfortunately for them, this first attempt at entering the tablet market is going somewhat less smoothly than Amazon’s.
Sources originally reported that a 7” Google tablet costing as little as $150 would be available sometime this May. Running Android 4.0 and powered by NVidea’s Tegra 3 quad-core processor, it was clearly an attempt to show off what a “pure” Android tablet was capable of in this price range. Sadly, we now have news indicating that the design being collaborated on by Google and Asus is running $249 per unit. The inability to keep costs down has brought along a delay until June and may force the elimination of some of the advantages the device was supposed to offer.
Prices on tablets are falling across the board. The iPad remains prohibitively expensive for many, but with an option like the $199 Kindle Fire there is still hope. Amazon did an impressive job of putting out dirt cheap hardware with the hope of making money on the resulting media sales and sales tracking indicates that they have been successful. Anybody hoping to compete with Amazon in the 7” tablet market will have to at least match the price they are offering and even then bring something impressive to the table.
While the obvious way to bring down costs would be to step down from the expensive Tegra 3 processer, Google is apparently trying to avoid that. This makes sense if they are trying to bring something out that really demonstrates the potential of the Android iteration (5.0 Jelly Bean) due out this June. They have to be forward-thinking and prepare to compete against anticipated Windows 8 tablets as well as the Kindle Fire, so cutting corners on performance would not work well.
Does Google have a chance of beating out Amazon? I would say no. The strength of the Kindle Fire isn’t in its power or in its benchmark ratings. Google Play is a step in the right direction, but aside from the App selection (which remains insufficiently moderated at the moment despite recent improvements and any other advantages it may offer) it can’t compare to what Amazon’s store integration brings to the table.
We can hope that this delay turns out to be more of a shift in focus than a fumbling attempt to get back on track with the original plan. An Android 5.0 tablet meant to compete against Windows 8 tablets by offering a superior price and experience would make sense and do a lot to secure the future of the OS if implemented well. An overpriced Kindle Fire competitor aimed at a noticeably different segment of the tablet customer pool than the Kindle would just be disappointing.
The Kindle Fire is a powerful device for the price and as a result many people are eager to get the greatest possible return on their investment. It can definitely do more than what the default UI brings to the user’s attention, given the de-emphasis on apps in favor of media consumption. This has led to an ongoing complaint that the Kindle Fire’s custom launcher is a bar to purchasing because of its break from the general Android experience.
People generally understand, from a financial perspective at least, why Amazon felt the need to cut their tablet off from the Google Marketplace (now Google Play) in favor of the Amazon Appstore for Android. The building a visually distinct user experience tends to be more troubling.
Having had more experience with Android smartphones than tablets, I have generally been inclined to favor the Kindle Fire UI on a personal level. It handles everything I feel the tablet is good for and doesn’t bother me with anything else unless I put it on the Favorites bar. When I got an email from a reader here recently about an app called Go Launcher EX that would change everything around to a more general Android tablet experience without all the trouble of rooting, though, I felt I had to give it a try.
The program is available in the Amazon Appstore, but it is listed as incompatible with the Kindle Fire. This is not entirely the case. If you download the .apk from the developer’s website (making sure to enable side-loading in your Kindle’s settings), it will install with no trouble. The app is freely available.
What you get for the effort is a great deal of customization. Multiple pages of customizable screen space are opened up by default. Widgets are included that will keep you up to date on everything from the weather to your device’s battery life and more are available with little trouble through a built-in store. Technically the backgrounds for the desktop screens are configurable, though that isn’t entirely functional alongside the Kindle Fire’s password screen for some reason. In general, while far more complicated than the default launcher, Go Launcher EX did bring a great deal of the tablet versatility that might be what people want.
Unfortunately, while using the new launcher I found the Kindle to be noticeably slower to react. Even when making use of the included utilities to completely free up active memory in every safe way possible, the experience included stuttering from time to time that reminded me of the Kindle Fire’s state before the first major firmware patch.
On top of this, the shift in emphasis to favor apps over Amazon’s integrated services seems to open up new possibilities at the expense of clarity and intuitive design. For a good half hour I was near to believing it might be impossible to gain access to cloud-stored apps and documents, for example. Overall I can’t really recommend for or against changing your launcher. I think the Kindle Fire shipped with a UI that is fast, intuitive, and plays to the hardware’s strengths. That doesn’t mean it is perfect or that you won’t find things you wish it would do better.
I will probably want to try something like Go Launcher again on a larger tablet, but for now I’m still finding the best uses of such a small device are exactly where they have always been. Apps can help with the consumption focus, but I’ll never need to have half a dozen screens full of them on the Kindle Fire like I do on my phone.
If you’re going to develop an application around the idea of ongoing micro-transactions, and many people have chosen to do exactly that, then the most important consideration is likely going to be smooth integration of payment options. Amazon used the essence of this in the creation of the Kindle Fire itself. The whole tablet is basically a way for customers to get the content they want without thinking too hard about where or how to get it, all while keeping the actual act of purchase as unobtrusive as possible. Until now, however, app developers wanting to cater to Kindle Fire users have been unable to turn this to their own advantage.
We know they have been looking into making this happen for quite some time, but apparently now we have some confirmation of active testing being done in preparation for a more large-scale roll-out. One of the founders of Skimble Inc, the maker of some physical fitness programs that have been involved with the pilot, revealed some of the details.
There will be both individual purchase options and the ability to set up a subscription. This will be handy for newspapers following Amazon’s recent recommendation that potential newspaper submissions set up their own apps rather than getting into the Kindle Store’s selection. Amazon’s cut on every sale will be the same 30% they take on eBooks and app sales in general.
This opens up whole new avenues of income both for Amazon and for app developers participating in their Android app store. Currently anybody looking for regular income from their users is forced to either sell ad space in free apps or arrange some sort of non-integrated system for content purchases. It is a smart move that puts the company in a much better position to capitalize on the Kindle Fire and Android app sales in general.
This is not a trivial thing to get going. Amazon absolutely needs to get things right. There have already been complaints about their parental controls thanks to poorly functioning and completely missing options in the initial release of the Kindle Fire. Users need the assurance that this will not be an issue in the future.
Many will remember the iPad in-app spending horror stories resulting from unrestricted purchasing options. Children were able to charge thousands of dollars buying virtual goods with no notice or warning screen until Apple came up with more refined controls. Such have not been nearly as necessary for the Kindle Fire before now, but adding this feature to the system will require some changes.
While Amazon has the best selling Android tablet on the market today, they have the smallest of the three major tablet app stores. Part of that is the heavy oversight they keep in place to ensure quality control among their offerings, but a lot is also lack of developer interest. While developers are likely to make significantly more on their app sales through Amazon than through Google Play, the initial sale is not the only source of income for many companies. If Amazon gets this working, and working well, it could lead to a huge boom in Kindle Fire app-building.