Yesterday, Amazon announced the Kindle Fire. It is a 7″ (1024 x 600 resolution) Android-based tablet PC with multi-touch capabilities, 8 GB of storage and Wi-Fi, weighing in at 14.6 ounces. The price of the device is $199 and it ships on November 15, 2011.
There are a number of very noticeable limitations and missing features which allowed Amazon to meet the $199 price point:
- Only 8 GB of device storage – Compared to all but the most entry level tablets on the market today, 8 GB of internal storage is extremely low. This will allow you to store a few movies, some music and games directly on the device. Amazon designed this product to be cloud storage-based. Amazon will store all content purchased from them free of charge and stream it to your device as you request it.
- No 3G/4G connectivity – The primary method for communicating with the device is over Wi-Fi.
- USB port capabilities – There currently seems to be some confusion about what exactly is supported by the USB port on the device. Some discussions I have read indicate that this is for charging the device from a PC or Mac only. Others seem to think that you will be able to “side load” content from a PC onto the device, essentially treating the device like a flash drive. Others are hoping that you would be able to connect a USB drive, like a flash drive to it, for external storage. My belief is that it can at least be used for charging. I would like to think you could load content on the device through this port and I seriously doubt if you could use external storage with it. That would require a much more complicated USB software stack to allow host mode operations.
- No Bluetooth – The device has no Bluetooth capabilities. You cannot use an external Bluetooth keyboard or headset. Those who prefer not to use wired headphones will be disappointed. It does have an onscreen keyboard, but you probably won’t want to write your next great novel on it.
- No GPS – The device has no GPS capabilities so many of the mapping applications available on other Android devices will not work. In general, location-based services will not work.
- No Microphone – There is no microphone on the device so applications like Skype and audio note taking software will not work on the Fire.
- No Camera – There is no camera on the device. Most devices in this category have both front and rear facing cameras for basic snapshots and applications like Skype.
- No SD card reader – Many consumers have grown accustomed to using their tablets to share photos directly from SD cards. Many tablets provide this ability either natively or through some form of adapter.
- Amazon content only – From what I have been able to find out, you can only purchase applications and content from Amazon. This means that you cannot purchase applications from other sources, like the Android Marketplace.
Unlike the iPad, the Kindle Fire has been designed purely for content consumption. This truly represents the razor blade sales model. In this case, Amazon is the only one who sells the blades. Amazon seems to have made it very difficult, if not impossible, for you to use content you already own and have created or purchased from other vendors. On the bright side, if you are an Amazon Prime subscriber, you have access to over 10,000 movies which can be streamed to the device at no additional cost.
I do still have a number of unanswered questions about the device:
- How do you update or upgrade the system software or apps?
- Can I backup content from the device to my PC or Mac?
- Can I load data from my PC or Mac?
- Can I work with content from other vendors like books I have purchased from Apple, Barnes and Noble or others?
- Since the user interface is new and was designed by Amazon from the ground up, I am curious to see how it works. How will it stack up against the other interfaces available?
- Does the device support Flash?
So, what did Amazon get right?
- To be competitive in the tablet space, I believe they did a reasonable job at hitting the appropriate price point. For the hardware and features provided, I do believe the Kindle Fire is a bit overpriced.
- They have bundled a 30-day trial of Amazon Prime with the purchase so new users can stream movies to their device immediately.
- The device comes tied directly to your Amazon account so you can access previously purchased Amazon content immediately.
- You do not need to connect to a PC or Mac to register or activate the device. It should be ready to go, out of the box.
- It looks as though they have taken a bit of the “geeky” quality away from more traditional Android interfaces. I have seen no evidence of any way to access the original Android interface on the device, however.
- Amazon has introduced the Silk Web Browser. In short, this browser takes advantage of compute resources at Amazon to assemble content which can then be displayed more quickly on the Fire. The concept is interesting, but on the downside, your content and web activity can easily be monitored and tracked by Amazon. This will likely be a privacy issue going forward. I am unsure if this is configurable.
- The 7″ form factor gives consumers another choice for a smaller device. I don’t know about the one-handed operation that has been discussed in the mainstream media, but it is likely a good size for a portable content consumption device.
- Amazon wins by having the majority of the content used on the device be purchased directly from them.
- One set of obvious winners are the content companies that provide media to Amazon. Based on the the normal usage of the Fire, this should significantly reduce issues with piracy.
- Internet service providers will eventually win if, by using the Fire, you have significantly increased your bandwidth usage. Increased bandwidth usage may push you over usage limits that are in place by your provider which may increase your bill.
- In some ways, the consumer loses with this device. On paper, the concept of streaming all of your content to a device sounds amazing. Unfortunately, many consumers will find that the available Wi-Fi connections will not provide good enough connectivity to stream content, especially HD video, without stuttering and buffering. Even if your internet connection is very good, depending on where you use your device, your Wi-Fi connection may not be fast enough to support your needs. If not cached on the device, each time you watch a movie or use other media, it will be downloaded. What if you want to store a few movies on your device before a trip? It may take you several hours to pre-load the content on the device over Wi-Fi. This will really be an issue for users who tether to devices like cell phones or hotspot devices like the Verizon MiFi. Watching just a few videos over this type of connection could consume all of the data from your plan for the month.
- The consumers who have large investments in content outside of the Amazon ecosystem will also lose if they move entirely to the Kindle Fire. It is likely that much of their existing content won’t be able to be used on the new device.
- Other Android tablet makers lose. In addition to the recent “fire sale” (no pun intended) of the HP TouchPad, we have another example of a much lower priced device that will sell quite well. This time, it is Android-based. To remain competitive in the marketplace, these vendors will need to lower prices too. Vendors who include features not available on the Kindle Fire will be able to charge a bit more, but will likely not be able to charge the premium price that Apple does for the iPad.
If you are buying this device to replace your existing Kindle, you may be a bit disappointed. Battery life on the Kindle Fire will be significantly less than any previous Kindle device. It is rated at 8 hours for reading and 7.5 hours for video playback. Also, from what I can tell, the screen is glossy which will make it more difficult to read in direct sunlight.
Some rumors are already swirling about a 10″ model being released early in 2012 if the 7″ model sells well. Should that version come out, it will likely be more competitive with the Apple iPad on a feature basis, but it will need to cost a good bit more than the current version of the Kindle Fire also.
I did pre-order a Kindle Fire. The question is, will I cancel my pre-order before it ships.