Kindle Fire ups the heat on Apple iPad

Amazon's Jeff Bezos launches Kindle FirePA

Amazon's Jeff Bezos has become the latest tech chief to brandish a device that will change life, the universe and everything (left). But yesterday's launch of the Kindle Fire may prove to be more than just more tech hype. Amazon's clout means Apple's iPad has a serious competitor for the first time.
The Kindle Fire was unveiled yesterday and one thing was clear immediately – Amazon has declared war on Apple. The device is a full-colour, 7-inch tablet computer which allows you to download music, films and books, it has its own web browser tailored for mobile device use. And it costs less than an iPad.

It's scheduled to go on sale in the US on 15 November and it will cost $199 (£130) – that's less than half the price of an iPad. As predicted, the price includes membership of Amazon's Prime service, which offers quick shipping and movie-streaming.

Amazon Cloud

But Amazon has confirmed there are currently no plans to make the device available in the UK. That's because of copyright restrictions which prevent access to the Amazon Cloud storage service in the UK – it's all to do with the right to copy music from one format to another.

Presenting the device at yesterday's launch in Manhattan, Bezos made much of how the Kindle was initially criticised but has got better over time. The message was clear – the Fire is just the start, and we mean to improve as we go along.

Such is the iPad's dominance in the tablet computer market, any other product launched into the same space will inevitably prompt the question 'Is this an iPad killer?' My view is that, while there are clearly similarities between the device and the combined content/device offer, it doesn't have to be.

Tablet market

Industry research predicts the tablet computer market will grow by 200% this year alone, and it also says that 28% of consumers who are going to buy a tablet are undecided about which one to buy. So the battle is not just about the existing market, but the growing one.

The iPad is more powerful, more elegant and it comes with 3G connectivity and a front-facing camera. It's also compatible with Apple's App Store, which offers a much larger range of apps – and many argue ones of better quality – than the Android ecosystem which the Fire taps into.

But Amazon is following Apple's lead of building a quality product by combining hardware, software and content – and Amazon has plenty of content. It also has plenty of existing users who won't find it too much trouble to adopt the new device, and whose account details it already has on file.

Apple and Amazon

Bezos repeated the phrase "premium products at non-premium prices" several times during the presentation. This suggests Amazon recognises that there is an opportunity to attract new customers. Few people will give up Apple in favour of Amazon's Kindle. The brand is strong and Apple users will find it fiddly to hook into a new ecosystem.

The talk is of Amazon shifting 4m Kindle Fire units this year. It may also be losing $50 on each device sold, as the device is rumoured to cost $250 to make. But, as we've said before, it's content that is the key and Amazon is offering a very affordable way to connect with its content.

This launch looks likely to grow the market. And a bit of competition for Apple won't do consumers any harm – especially as even Apple's staunchest advocates are getting a little concerned about the way the company y is chucking its weight around.

Much to be gained

The device will improve, and the copyright issues surrounding cloud storage and music usage will surely be resolved sooner rather than later – there's too much to be gained by too many for it to be otherwise. There's also the option for Amazon to ramp up subscription services once it has established a customer base.

This device will be a player – but it's even harder now to see any other tablet device challenging the big two of iPad and Kindle Fire. Between them, Amazon and Apple offer devices that are desirable, easy to use, affordable and which access a huge range of quality content.

If anyone else can find some space in the market, they deserve to make serious money. What will be worth watching, though, is whether Apple decides it does not want the iPad to be positioned as a premium-only product and responds head-on with a budget version. And whether Amazon continues to concede the premium spectrum to its rival. The heat could rise further.
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