There is essentially no competition to be found between the Kindle Fire and any imaginable Windows 8 Tablet at this time. I’ve touched on this a bit here already immediately following the announcement of the Microsoft Surface tablet, but it’s come up in emails and various other places often enough since then to be worth revisiting. They are catering to completely different needs, price ranges, and purposes. I doubt this comes as much of a surprise to anybody, but let’s hit the high points again.
The comparison ends up being very similar to that of the iPad vs the Kindle Fire. It is inevitable that people will compare them. After all, they are both tablets. Add to that the fact that they are both extremely popular and that each is backed by one of the biggest companies in the world right now and the parallels are too clear to ignore. Stepping past the most superficial aspects gives us a much more meaningful understanding.
In the case of Windows 8, we’re looking at a tablet OS that is deliberately formed into something that could replace a laptop. The Surface is the ideal example, as you would expect when Microsoft designed both hardware and software sides of things. Users get productivity apps along the lines of a full Office suite, a well-integrated social media sharing system, and more. If you could possibly want to do it on a tablet, or on a portable computing device in general, Windows 8 is probably somehow equipped for that.
The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, doesn’t even come with full Android functionality. It is an Amazon device meant for consuming Amazon media services. You don’t get much in the way of access to third party programs. Even media coming in from a non-Amazon source isn’t always supported as well as one might like. I can recall a few occasions when the lack of a decent codec pack was problematic. If a particular user’s situation demands it then they can certainly install some approximation of office apps and such, but the experience will be less than ideal and there is no way to significantly improve it.
There is a reason that the Kindle Fire is priced so far below things like the iPad and, presumably, the Surface. You wouldn’t be wrong to guess that part of it is simply an inability to compete at that price point, but you wouldn’t be entirely right either. Amazon is using the tablet in a different way and not even really trying to compete.
There will always be implicit comparisons. Not only will they come up with the big names in the tablet market, but the Kindle Fire will forever be lumped in with the Android Market as people try to figure out who is doing well. In reality, it doesn’t even belong there. Their device is being sold cheaply, maybe even at cost even now, specifically because it doesn’t matter how much they make on the hardware.
Anybody who uses a Kindle Fire, however briefly, is a win for the company simply because they are then tied into the media network where Amazon is really interested in making their money. They don’t want to make a tablet that can be everything for everybody, just to add a bit of incentive to choose them for any digital media needs one might have.
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.
While the Nook Tablet has done moderately well, especially compared to many other budget tablets in the same price range, it has not proven to be the substantial threat to the Kindle Fire that many hoped it would be. There was never a chance that the new market would make this Nook a Kindle killer, but the fact that competition has been so one-sided thus far is almost disappointing. While it may not be enough to turn things around entirely, however, Barnes & Noble has done a couple things lately to keep their product line in the game.
Most interesting of these, especially for existing and prospective Nook owners, is the memory reallocation program they have begun. If somebody has a Nook Tablet with 16GB of storage space, they are now able to go into any Barnes & Noble location and get their internal storage settings changed to allow for 8GB of usable space. While it is hardly the freedom to use all of the hardware you paid for that many would prefer, 8GB of free space is more than the Kindle Fire offers and definitely more in line with what customers were expecting when they picked up the tablet in the first place. Including all that storage space and locking customers out of using it was simply a dumb move.
To overcome the price disparity between their own line and Amazon’s, B&N has released an 8GB model that matches the $200 Kindle Fire price. We’ve been over this a bit in previous posts, but the significance cannot be overlooked since the Nook’s hardware does have several advantages over the Kindle.
Even more important, though less immediately available for analysis, there is reason to believe that the Nook Tablet will beat the Kindle Fire to the UK. There has been a great deal of anger directed at Amazon over the impressive amount of time they are taking to get their device anywhere outside of the US. For a company like Barnes & Noble, which has already gained a reputation for having minimal interest in international markets based on eReader sales, this would be quite a coup. Having the market essentially to itself would be nice for the Nook’s popularity, but the potential for fast-track progress to customer loyalty is even more important.
In the end, the thing that the Kindle Fire has going for it is the same thing it has always had going for it. Amazon as a backer and the ecosystem they provide. Barnes & Noble can change their prices, fix their mistakes, and jump ahead in distribution all they want, but they can’t hope to come out on top without matching the Amazon back end. Whether they are willing to invest the time and effort into doing so, or even have the capability at this point, remains to be seen. It is always good news for customers when the competition heats up, though, so we can all hope that B&N will follow up these positive efforts with something that will require Amazon to step up their Kindle Fire game a bit in response.
After months of speculation and rumor about Amazon and Apple going head to head in an all-out Kindle Fire vs iPad 3 (or Mini, or HD) confrontation, we finally have all of the information we’ve been waiting for and it turns out that Apple isn’t addressing their “competition” in any significant way. This should really surprise nobody given the different user bases being served, but it is worth taking a look at what the new iPad can do and how well it does for the price.
The big distinguishing feature of the iPad is that, unlike the Kindle Fire, it is in many ways a computer alternative. There is little that you can’t do on one, aside from truly hardware intensive tasks, if you are motivated enough to use the touch screen. The newest iteration of the hardware line is no exception and does a fair amount to improve the overall experience even further. New features include the move to a Retina Display like that of the iPhone 4, a new A5X Dual Core Processor, one 5 Megapixel camera situated on the rear of the device, Full 1080p HD video recording, 4G LTE connectivity through both AT&T and Verizon, and dictation capabilities. A fair list that expands on what the iPad 2 already did well.
What does this mean for the Kindle Fire’s future? Honestly, practically nothing. This was not, contrary to rumors, a release that intended to kill the Kindle. As any side by side comparison has long since proved, the iPad already had a larger screen, cameras, a microphone, cellular connectivity, and more processing power. If no other factors were considered besides simple hardware performance then Apple wins the iPad vs Kindle Fire matchup every time. The fact that Apple couldn’t help but be aware of this only serves to illustrate that their widening the gap in hardware performance was directed elsewhere; most likely at heading off Microsoft by increasing momentum before the first Windows 8 Tablets start hitting stores later this year.
The biggest factor is still going to be the price for most consumers. For all its impressive power, the iPad 3 still runs at least $499 for the cheapest model with no 4G connection. Even the iPad 2, the cheapest version of which has been kept on at least temporarily at a discount to consumers, is twice the price of the Kindle Fire at $399. None of the major advantages that the Kindle offers in terms of size, weight, or affordability have been addressed. While you can’t say that any of those is universally acknowledged as the most important factor in tablet purchasing (the iPad is not suffering a bit by most accounts, nor does anything from Amazon seem to indicate that they were expected to be by now), they are the things that people take into account when deciding on a new device purchase. For the moment, these remain two completely different types of tablet. The iPad works as a functional PC alternative while the Kindle Fire is all about the consumption. The next big chance to change the equation won’t be until the details are announced for the upcoming Kindle Fire 2.
Google has announced an immediate change of their marketing for the Android Marketplace. It shall henceforth be known as “Google Play”. Now, possibly I’m reading too much into this but it sounds a lot like they saw what Amazon had pulled off with the Kindle Fire and realized that it was possible to break consumption away from production in the area of mobile devices. After all, you are clearly not targeting enterprise users by sending them to Play, right?
Google Play is more than just a rebranding of the Marketplace, of course. It is an effort to bring together Google’s apps, movies, eBooks, and music in a single package for easy consumption. Anybody familiar with the Kindle Fire or the philosophy it embraces will probably be noticing some interesting similarities right away from the description, honestly. All Google Play services will be entirely cloud-based much like what Amazon has been doing, so that all of your content is available at once regardless of storage space available on any particular device.
For those who are already using the Google Marketplace options, there should be a smooth roll-out. Most people are reporting that the apps have already updated, much of the time without users so much as noticing the change at first. All content that you own through Google is immediately available in the new apps, so the transition should be quite smooth. It will encompass all geographic areas, with what Play content is available being determined by the individual market. Canada and the UK have Movies, eBooks, and Apps; Australia has eBooks and Apps; most areas have at least the App store. No real functional change, in many ways.
What makes this significant is what it means going forward. Clearly Google is going to be aiming directly as consumer markets with Play, following the example set by the Kindle Fire (in preparation for their rumored 7” tablet?). This was where most of these integrated services were generally heading toward anyway, though, however much the Android Marketplace offered options for all activities. By making it explicit, Google has the opportunity to specifically target business users with a more direct approach. It is not hard to imagine an expansion of Google’s production based products in the very near future.
Sadly, this new set of apps will not make it any easier for Kindle Fire users to access Google’s services without roundabout methods or rooting of the device. While this likely would have been a good opportunity for the company to slip in a way to let Amazon’s customers choose between the stores, it is probable that Amazon locked that down fairly tightly before things even started to ship. At this point side-loaded apps from the new service will either fail to install in the first place or never load properly once installed. Competition between the two over who gets the most popular closed ecosystem will have to take place as scheduled when Google’s own hardware sees the light of day.
Until we see Windows 8 hitting shelves, the only real contenders in the tablet market are Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android OS. As much as the BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 does some great things, most of its newfound strength comes from being able to import Android content. Given the importance of Google’s place as the developer of Android, which while lagging behind iOS is still making rapid gains, it has struck many people as troubling that Amazon would take their software and cut them out of the loop entirely with the release of the Kindle Fire. Despite the fact that it’s not really against any rules, the breaking of that the most popular Android tablet ever from the Android Marketplace and other Google services comes up frequently in Kindle Fire reviews. Now we have reason to believe that Google has taken notice and may be willing to respond.
According to recent reports, Google will be releasing their own 7” $200 Kindle Fire competitor as early as early as 2nd Quarter this year. Information is still mostly speculation with regard to the specifics of this new tablet, but supposedly it will run Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich”, have a 7” 1280 x 800 display, and be introduced in an initial production run of 1.5 – 2 million units. For a new launch early in the year, that indicates fairly strong confidence in their product.
For once this may actually be a sufficiently strong product to beat out the competition. Google is in a position to control the entire ecosystem surrounding their device, much like Amazon with the Kindle Fire, but can draw on a much more significant pool of content when providing apps and such. This may be what it takes to approach the iPad in a meaningful way right off the bat. While the most obvious conflict being sought when releasing a 7” tablet will be the Google vs Kindle Fire matchup, Apple’s anticipated iPad 3 will be joining the fray as well with a smaller design that intrigues many potential customers.
All of Google’s more recent actions with regard to Android, from the tablet optimization to the automated policing of the Android Marketplace to remove malware and other malicious programs, come together to make this a far more appealing prospect than it could have been a year ago. The Kindle Fire has proven more than anything previously that there is room for more than one big name in the marketplace by overtaking even the most established competing Android devices in a matter of months and setting the new standard for tablet pricing.
At worst this rumored tablet would be something that other Android device developers could model their design on with confidence, knowing that Google is already designing with such a configuration in mind. At best, maybe even the Kindle Fire and iPad have something to look out for in the months to come. Until we see concrete details it’s hard to guess which competitor will be targeted directly, but it’s even harder to imagine that Google would settle for anything less than one of the big names in tablets.
The past few months have been interesting for both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. While the former has been enjoying record success in both their eReading efforts and the new Kindle Fire tablet sales however, B&N seems to be having some trouble keeping up with things related to their Nook line. There has even been talk of them spinning off the whole Nook endeavor into its own company due to the high expense of keeping pace in a competitive market. Despite all of this though, and regardless of how it plays out in the larger scheme of things, a lot has been happening that should keep the Nook line a definite consideration for consumers.
Probably the most important factor would be what’s new with the Nook Tablet. While it was always somewhat superior to the Kindle Fire on paper, the experience of using it has generally failed to impress by comparison and certain restrictions on how the end user could manage their data caused a great deal of upset. Recently this has all changed with the announcement of a simple method for rooting the tablet and gaining much greater control over it as a result. All you need now is a MicroSD Card and some freely available software from the guys over at XDA. While for most people’s general uses this still will not necessarily make the Nook Tablet superior to its Kindle competition, it does open up the possibility of finally making the use of the better hardware for those who want to get maximum performance for their money.
The eReader side of things has hardly been left to sit around unnoticed either, of course. There are currently two major bits of information going around specific to this. First, word is out that Barnes & Noble will shortly be announcing the release of their eReaders outside the US for the first time. Most likely this will be in a partnership with UK bookseller Waterstones, if the rumors are to be believed. Some might remember the same company expressing interest in creating its own eReader to compete with the Kindle some months back, so this partnership would be completely in character.
There is also word of a new generation of the Nook already getting set to hit the shelves. It would be difficult to imagine what significant improvements they could have planned over the Nook Simple Touch already given how well it stacks up against the competition (I would argue that if you ignore the differences in integrated stores it is noticeably superior to any of the latest Kindles), but could be an effort to either reduce prices or spring something entirely new on the market. Either way, for the most part these rumors are tied up in claims regarding the Waterstones partnership and should both come to fruition they will likely appear on a similar timeline.
Possibly not the best time in the world to be the company that runs the Nook line, given how heavily Amazon is investing in making the Kindle Fire and Kindle eReaders successful. They’ve done a great job of stepping up to the plate and providing good products despite this, however, and offering superior hardware for the money is always going to serve to draw the attention.
There are two major factors favoring the success of the Kindle Tablet right now, aside from being backed by Amazon and all that that entails. One is that it will be cheaper than pretty much all of the tablet competition, especially the big names like Apple. Two is that it should be able to provide a consistent, centralized experience practically unheard of in the Android Tablet market today.
Pricing is a key issue, of course. It will be incredibly hard for most companies to compete with Amazon since their media sales emphasis will allow them to sell hardware at or below cost while confidently expecting to make up the profits in post-sale usage. The only really usable tablet in the same range is the Nook Color, which is mostly only succeeding by being great compared to other extremely cheap tablets. If Amazon can manage to provide a genuinely superior experience at the same price, they will stand alone with good reason.
We can’t rely entirely on pricing to determine success, though. The Pandigital Novel can often be found for $80 or less, but that doesn’t mean it is knocking the Kindle down from their place on top of eReader sales (despite being a color eReader, which many people claim is more important than screen quality or interface).
The act of creating a consistent Android experience, however, might soon be less useful than we might expect, should Windows 8 live up to its promise. Microsoft’s new tablet-centric operating system seems to have a good chance of focusing tablets around a single unfragmented environment that has no ties to a specific manufacturer. They’ve got media play capabilities, the full versatility of a Windows OS, an apparently highly streamlined design, and even an App Store. It can be hard to argue with all that.
The Kindle Tablet will clearly be running lower powered hardware than most Windows tablets can be expected to, and will have a more consumption-focused experience. The problem they are facing is less direct market competition and more a conflict of perception. If the idea is to lure in consumers with something that is like an iPad in every way that matters besides the price, it will only work so long as the iPad is what people are using as the basis for comparison. A $350 Windows tablet with superior hardware and a comparable user experience might be enough to derail the whole effort no matter what kind of incentives Amazon is able to throw in to sweeten the pot.
In the end everything will rest on how the two launches go. Amazon has earned a great deal of customer loyalty through the Kindle platform, which goes a long way toward jump starting the new product. Microsoft, on the other hand, has left many potential customers and developers a bit put off with the extremely different direction their newest product has taken things. A failure to impress on the part of either company will mean a lot for the competition.
With the knowledge that a new Kindle is on the horizon there are reasons that it might seem to be worth holding back on your new Nook purchase to see what is coming, but is it worth the wait? At present there are a lot of great products on the market and as tempting as it is to wait for the next big thing, there comes a point when holding off gets silly. With that in mind, is it worth the risk, however slight, of picking up what may soon be an inferior product?
The biggest thing to decide right off the bat is what you are looking for in your eReader. Right now, the Nook Simple Touch and Kindle 3 (no matter which type you choose) offer very similar experiences. The best E INK screens available, page refresh far faster than you could reliably turn pages in a paper book, light and comfortable to hold, literally months of battery life, and a direct connection into each’s respective amazingly comprehensive eBook store. Aside from a couple very small particulars, neither one is physically superior to the other.
If you have to choose right now, based on nothing but the hardware, then you’re essentially on even ground with these two. The Nook Simple Touch is newer, slightly faster, has a touchscreen display, and is a couple inches shorter. The Kindle has the option of 3G coverage, a physical keyboard, and external contacts that can power a book light should you be inclined to use such an accessory. None of these factor in much when it comes right down to reading a book under normal circumstances.
There is always the fact that the new Kindle is coming out soon and will certainly have upgrades that make it stand out, but what real point of superiority is going to put it over the top right now? Short of having a non-backlit color screen to make color eBooks a better choice, there isn’t much room to grow. The Kindle 3 is perfect for reading on, in that once you get started you can forget how you’re reading and just concentrate on the book. The new Nook does the same thing just as well. Chances are, the new Kindle will accomplish it again. As much as I’m looking forward to picking up the new model, and would recommend avoiding any Kindle purchases until it comes out since it is only a couple months away at this point, it does not factor into a Kindle vs Nook decision.
The most important thing in deciding is going to be who you want to do business with. As I pointed out recently, it is definitely possible to jump from one platform to another if you have the patience to deal with file conversion. Nobody really wants to bother with that, though. Since pricing and selection are pretty similar no matter where you buy your eBooks right now, there isn’t a compelling reason to go back and forth between them. It is likely that wherever you amass your first collection of eBooks is where you’re going to stay. If Barnes & Noble is the eReader provider for you, don’t let speculation about new Kindles scare you off. There might be some room for the Kindle to advance right now, but to think that it will be enough in the near future to completely knock competition out of the ballpark is a bit far fetched.
Long before the Kindle had a firm grasp on the eBook market, and even before the term eReader had much meaning in the minds of the public, Sony had started up their line of Sony Readers. They were the first company that not only did the job, but did it well. In time, unfortunately, they seemed to fall behind. Too many other consumer choices and an ongoing failure to present competitive prices have led to the whole product line struggling to expand its business.
Recent information reveals, however, that Sony is definitely not at the point of giving up just yet. A Bloomberg report provided indications that Sony will be upgrading its current line with both hardware and software improvements, probably before the end of August. There are no indications at this time to indicate that price drops will be accompanying the upgrades, but it can be assumed that if there are any, they will be small. The upcoming release of the new Sony S1 and S2 Tablet PCs will be intended to target “a more status-minded customer”, according to a recent CNN report, and it is likely that they will similarly weigh the prestige of owning a Sony Reader as a more important factor than matching the price of the increasingly inexpensive Amazon Kindle.
Both eReader and Tablet ownership continue to rise and are expected to continue doing so through the immediate future, but it remains to be seem whether or not Sony can grab a piece of this momentum. There will likely be two major factors contributing to their success or failure.
The biggest thing that they have working against them, aside from unit price, is their eBook store. Unlike the Kindle and Nook, each of which is coupled with a truly impressive selection of titles available for purchase, the Sony Reader Store has not developed an impressive following. The selection has gotten better over the years and, thanks to the Agency Model of eBook pricing, nobody has a significant advantage over them when it comes to prices. Nothing has made their store particularly unique, however, and without some sort of reason for it to stand out, the Reader Store is just another random eBook store among many in the eyes of the potential customer.
On the other hand, the hardware will likely be a major advantage. Say what you will about the Reader line, Sony has proven willing to experiment and innovate. They not only essentially started the eReader business as we know it, they made many of the mistakes and some of the successes that have made eReaders into what we know and love today. The first touchscreen eReader was a Sony, I believe, even if they didn’t pull it off quite right. Their early PRS-505 model was impressive enough that a reasonably cheap copy of it with a more modern display would immediately be a step up from many of the recent options we’ve seen, even years after it became officially obsolete.
It will be interesting to see if there are any really significant updates in the latest batch. The Kindle Competition has been great lately and it’s nice to see some truly superior options make their way to the top. I’ve always loved my Sony Readers. A comeback at this point is more than welcome.