Amazon unveils the new Kindle Fire

September 29, 2011

It’s official. It’s out there. Amazon’s tablet was unveiled yesterday and yes, you guessed it: it was surrounded by great hype from the media. Several tech publications were live-blogging Jeff Bezos' keynote with an anticipation usually reserved for Apple events. But this time there was no Steve Jobs on stage, and for once it didn’t matter. Everybody knew Amazon was about to pull a rabbit out of their hat. And that’s exactly what they did, in the form of the brand new Kindle Fire.

Amazon Kindle Fire - Image from the Official Amazon Website.

This thing looks good. It has all the strength of the Amazon ecosystem behind, perfectly integrated and ready to be used from the moment you take it out of the box. Amazon has taken everything they did right with the Kindle, and used it to build what will clearly be the best selling Android tablet on the planet. Not that it was difficult, but still. What’s funny about it is that, for the most part, people won’t even know it’s an Android tablet. Amazon has put their brand on every imaginable corner of this thing, and that’s a clever move. People will not buy the Fire for the Android part, they will buy it for the Amazon experience they already know and love. Just for fun, do you know how many times the “Android” word is mentioned in the official Amazon page for the Fire? Once. Just once in a whole page full of text. Clearly they don’t want you to focus on that.

Amazon wants people to think of the Fire as the Amazon tablet, not just another flavor of Android. For all we know, Android is just a commodity for them: if they had access to the Windows Phone or WebOS source code, they might as well have used one of those instead. And who’s to say they won’t do that tomorrow. What Amazon brings to the table is a consumer experience to rival Apple’s. Actually, they are the only company I can think of who has all the strategic components necessary to produce this type of device. It’s not about specs, it’s about covering the whole experience, end to end. And Amazon knows how to do that.

What does this mean for Google? Well, in a word, Amazon has screwed them big time. They have beaten them at their own game. Google has always used early access to the latest Android version as a negotiating tool to control their associated OEMs. They’ve used the rest of Google’s own services as leverage to make them play along with their rules, too. Access to GMail, Google Maps, etc. That’s what the OEMs get for free if they play nice with Google on the Android front. Take all those services away and the smartphone or tablet experience is significantly compromised.

However, enter Amazon: They have an entire ecosystem of services to rival Google’s, they don’t need their help to make this work, and they’ve made it perfectly clear that they don’t want them sticking their nose around, either: The Fire doesn’t include the official Android Market, but instead comes loaded with the Amazon appstore. That’s just one example. Amazon has taken the Android core and is running with it straight to the finish line. And they’re not looking back. Meanwhile, Google and the rest of the Android OEMs are still trying to tie their shoelaces.

In a market where trying to compete with the iPad playing to its strengths is pretty much a synonym for suicide, Amazon has made a genius move: they’re not trying to compete with the iPad at all. The price of the Fire alone tells you that: it’s just $199. As John Gruber pointed out, you could buy a Kindle Fire and a brand new top-of-the-line Kindle touch for less than the price of an iPad. And that’s just the entry-level iPad. It’s clear that this new device is aimed at a different segment of the market. At $199, it’s still within the impulse-buy range, specially with the holiday season getting closer. I’m convinced that if they manage to make them fast enough, they’re going to sell a gazillion of these during the holiday quarter.

Also, though the iPad and the Fire are very different, it will be interesting to see if the Fire cuts into the iPad’s sales this holiday quarter. The iPad is a great holiday gift, no doubt, but it is more expensive than most people typically think of spending on a gift. I bet that until now, some people ended up buying an iPad (and spending more than they would have liked) simply because there was no real alternative available that they knew about and that didn’t feel like a waste of their money. Now the Fire changes all that. I think many parents are going to choose to save some money and get their kids a Fire, thinking that it’s pretty much like an iPad (even though it’s not). Whatever happens, it may be difficult to judge, since both the iPad and the Fire are poised to have a terrific holiday quarter, but the question is out there: of the many million Kindle Fires Amazon will sell during the holidays, how many of those would have been iPads? It’s funny that the other way around is not so interesting: clearly when you buy an iPad you know what you want, so this may be a tricky comparison. We’ll see.

Truth be told, when all is said and done the Fire remains purely a content consumption device, although backed up by a huge content offering by Amazon. Now, some people may think of that as a critic, but it sounds pretty sweet to me. By the way, remember when they said the same thing about the iPad? It’s ridiculous. Who knows what kinds of apps people will come up with now, finally knowing that there is a device out there, selling well enough to turn a profit? Until know, Android development was hindered by too many devices, too many specs, too many screen sizes… developing an Android app had an extra degree of complexity when compared to developing an iOS app. The situation hasn’t changed dramatically overnight, of course, but now developers at least have a clear target when making a new Android app: make pretty damn sure that it runs spectacularly well on the Fire. Then, let’s see how it does on the rest of the Android tablets out there. If they’re still around, that is.

We have interesting months ahead. Let’s see how the rest of the industry reacts to this move. For Google and some Android OEMs, pulling their pants up might be a good way to start. For consumers, it’s clear that this is good news: it means more choice, more innovation, and a brighter future. For developers, it’s equally exciting. Now let’s sit back and watch how the holiday season plays out, and what the New Year brings.

Ready? Set? Go.