Amazon Kindle Fire 2: Lead, Follow or Wander

| Particle Debris

Follow he leaderGoogle had released the Nexus 7, its opening salvo in the content consumption 7-inch tablet market. Apple is rumored to be almost ready to release a 7.85-inch iPad. What will Amazon have to do to secure the future of the Kindle Fire?

We watched as the Kindle Fire drove a tank through Apple’s defenses during the Christmas 2011 holiday. Then, of course, because of the limited nature of the device, relegating it to the status of a gift item or holiday novelty, it couldn’t stand the test of time.

Then Google came out with a much more powerful, capable Nexus 7 tablet. (Here is the spec comparison.) And yet, the Nexus 7 isn’t perfect. There seem to be some minor manufacturing QC issues. And this week, Jason Perlow writes, “I’ve found the camera and the microphone on the Nexus 7 to be completely unsatisfactory for using Skype and other VOIP/video conferencing apps, so anything Amazon can do to upstage Google and other manufacturers on this front would be well-received.”

So it sets up to be a fight for second place, behind Apple’s iPad 7. But more explicitly, Amazon has a big choice ahead. Build a Kindle Fire 2 that can set the world on fire and go toe-to-toe with the other competitors, or be saddled with a loser. Or throw in the towel. It’s not an easy proposition.

Amazon got some traction at launch because of the price point, but that led to serious engineering compromises. (Never mind that it lost money.) The Kindle 2 is where we’ll discover if Amazon has the engineering acumen to both compete on price, preserve its niche in the market, yet up its game sufficiently so that the Nexus 7 and iPad 7 don’t relegate it to the dustbin of history.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Amazon does. Mr. Perlow explores all that in the article I’ve referenced below.

Tech News Debris

“Where Lion stumbled, Mountain Lion regroups and forges ahead.” That’s the tag line of John Siracusa’s magnum opus on OS X Mountain Lion. This is everything you might need to know about Apple’s newest OS release, and it’s a worthy effort. Carve out some free time for: “OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion: the Ars Technica review.

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Carve out some time for this one also. The popular science fiction author, Charlie Stross, has written an interesting essay on ubiquitous computing, based on his recent talk in Munich. It all starts with Koomey’s Law… “How low (power) can you go?” The discussion is fascinating, including a discussion of lifelogging — recording everything we do in our entire life. With associated legal and social consequences. (How will Google glass fit into all that? - JM) This is a good discussion by Mr. Stross.

Yesterday, I saw a cute advertising slogan. “Lead, follow or just wander around.” Is Amazon wandering around with the Kindle Fire? What will the Kindle Fire 2 have to do to set the world on fire? Or, ahem, merely hold its own against the (rumored) Apple iPad 7 and the Nexus 7. Jason Perlow puts the question to Amazon. “Kindle Fire 2: Disrupt the Nexus 7 or get out of the way.

By the way, I am no longer calling the rumored 7.85 inch iPad the “iPad mini.” I never liked that name. From now on, I’m calling it the “iPad 7”. Now that we have the “new iPad,” there won’t be any confusion. For awhile, anyway.

Okay, how do I get an Apple segue here. Ah, Pixar, that’s it. It turns out that Mike Senna, a California robotics enthusiast, has built a real, working WALL-E robot. Imagine the possibilities for a new, related sci-fi movie.

Nest

Image Credit:  Nest

Finally, recall that former Apple employee Tony Fadell left to create the Nest thermostat. Here’s the first review I’ve seen. “A thermostat that learns? Three months with the Nest

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Follow the leader image credit: Shutterstock.

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Comments

Dirt Road

Without seeing Amazon’s data, it’s possible that the Kindle Fire is doing everything Amazon wanted it to do. Keep in mind that Amazon’s model is just the opposite of Apple’s: Apple provides content to drive hardware sales; Amazon provides hardware for cheap to drive content sales. The plain eInk Kindle is a great little device, and they’re not lying about being able to read in direct sunlight (I’ve done it).

The Kindle Fire isn’t a general-purpose tablet, and it’s not meant to be. Again, this is speculation, but I see Amazon having several goals:

1) Provide a handheld storefront for buying stuff (not just books) from Amazon. Check.

2) Stick a thumb in B&N’s eye by denying the Nook Color a clear run. Check.

3) Freak out Google and Apple, forcing them to rush a product to market that isn’t completely thought out. Partial check.

Amazon has managed to avoid many of the problems in other Android tablets, by simply throwing out the standard Android UI and using their own (tailored to achieve goal #1 above). Amazon offers a subset of Android apps for the Fire, which implies they’ve at least vetted them to make sure they work without screwing up the rest of the system. (I think it’s obvious that they’ve taken some cues from Apple, and adapted them to their own ecosystem.) As far as how much money they’re losing on each Fire sale (ha), I remember seeing someone run an analysis and it was close to break-even. The educated guess was that anyone buying $50 worth of stuff through the Fire would erase the loss. They could probably give a Fire to each Prime member and come out ahead. But if Amazon is losing money, is Google losing even more on a more hardware-capable tablet at the same price?

Now to that goal #3. They didn’t panic Apple, visibly at least. Apple knows their customers pretty well, and they have one of the best corporate poker faces extant. They’re not going to throw a slapdash iPad mini (my guess as to the name) onto the market, and I’m guessing that the price tag won’t be anywhere near $200. Maybe $299. For the premium, you’ll get a general-purpose tablet with a huge app/media ecosystem already in place, and a user interface that my 2yo grandson can (and did) figure out.

OTOH, I think they panicked Google. Google’s ecosystem is more like Amazon’s than Apple’s, they’re set up to profit on content and furnish hardware as a loss leader. The problem is, Google is too smart for their own good. They don’t have the retail savvy of Amazon, or the user experience focus of Apple. So they blasted out a feature-heavy “Fire killer” (extinguisher?) with the latest version of Android, but without the usability polish of either the Fire or the iPad. Worse, if two of the big three advantages of the Nexus (camera, mic, Bluetooth) don’t work well, that suggests a rush to market. Same with the display problems, which are part of a larger fit & finish issue.

The Kindle Fire flew off the shelves when it first came out. The Nexus 7 is flying off the shelves now. Let’s see if its sales curve follows the Fire’s. If I had $200 to blow, I’d seriously consider getting a Nexus. If nothing else, the grandkid could use it for games.

iJack

I can’t them using “iPad 7,” for two reasons:

- It would appear to be aping the Nexus 7, and
- If supply rumors are to be believed, this iPad will have a 7.85” (diagonal) screen, which is about 7-7/8, and as near as dammit, 8”.

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