Can Amazon Kindle Fire shift tablet market away from Apple’s iPad?

November 14, 2011

Amazon’s new tablet, called the Kindle Fire, hit shelves Monday to mostly positive reviews, including that of Joshua Topolsky, who wrote that the Kindle Fire could change the landscape of the tablet market:

If you’re planning to review something like Amazon’s new tablet, the Kindle Fire, you need two things: time, and a big list of music, movies and books you want to dive into.

Sure, the Fire is a proper tablet, with many (though not all) of the capabilities of something like an iPad. But the focus on this product is most certainly on lean-back experiences, and that’s reflected in its $199.99 price, too.

Can a $200 mini-tablet take on Apple’s behemoth? Can it derail the plans of other Android tablet makers? And does the release of this product fundamentally change Amazon’s position in the market?

The answer is ... maybe. But they have to do some tinkering first.

Amazon can start with the design, which looks nearly identical to that of the BlackBerry PlayBook — that is, a black rectangle with a high gloss display and a soft-touch rear panel. It’s uninspired, to say the least. And there are other issues, like a badly placed power button that caused me to nearly shut off the device a couple of times by accident.

Still, the Fire feels solid and well made. It’s got enough heft that it feels substantial, but it’s not so heavy that you feel strain when holding it for extended periods. Unlike the 1.3 pound iPad 2, I never felt fatigue after reading a book or magazine on the Fire.

A tablet this size and shape might very well be the sweet spot for many users, and since most people have never seen or used a PlayBook, the Fire should be a relatively new experience for them from a design standpoint, too.

Inside the device is a speedy dual-core processor and 8GB of storage. There’s no camera, and no 3G connectivity like older Kindles — only Wi-Fi. If you want to take the Fire out for a walk, you’d better bring a portable hotspot with you.

Amazon announced last week they would pair the launch of the Kindle Fire with the release of thousands of apps in time for the tablet’s release date, as Hayley Tsukayama reported:

Taking it up in notch in its tablet war with Barnes and Noble, Amazon announced Wednesday that it will have “several thousand” apps coming for the Kindle Fire’s launch next week.

The apps will include access to Netflix, a selling point that Barnes and Noble highlighted with its launch of the Nook Tablet earlier this week.

Other apps available through Amazon’s curated version of the Android market will include Facebook, Pandora (also a Nook partner), Rovio, PopCap, Zynga and Gameloft, all powerhouses for mobile consumption.

In a press statement, Kindle vice president Dave Limp said that the new apps were “only the beginning -- we’re adding more apps and games every day across all categories.”

The Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet are set to compete head-on for consumers looking for cheaper tablets that focus on reading. At $199, the Kindle Fire has the price advantage, though the Nook has more memory and has been designed with a more reader-friendly screen. On the other hand, the Fire is aimed at being more of an all-in-one device for mobile media, providing access to Amazon’s extensive retail ecosystem.

What are the major differences between Apple’s iPad and the Kindle Fire? The Associated Press explained:

A look at some of the major differences between Amazon.com Inc.’s tablet computer, the Kindle Fire, and Apple Inc.’s popular iPad:

Price: The Kindle Fire, which connects to the Internet over Wi-Fi networks, costs $199. The iPad costs $499 to $829, depending on storage capacity and its wireless capabilities. Some iPad models can access cellular networks besides Wi-Fi.

Screen size: The Kindle Fire’s display measures 7 inches diagonally, while the iPad has a 9.7-inch display. That makes the Fire’s screen a bit less than half the size of the iPad’s.

Software: The Kindle Fire runs Google Inc.’s Android software. The iPad uses Apple’s own iOS software.

Storage: The Kindle Fire includes 8 gigabytes of internal storage and free Web-based storage for any digital content you get from Amazon, such as Kindle e-books, movies or music. The iPad includes 16 GB to 64 GB of storage space, depending on price.

Thickness: The Kindle Fire is 0.45 inches thick; the iPad is 0.34 inches thick.

Weight: The Kindle Fire tips the scales at 14.6 ounces — slightly less than a pound — while the iPad weighs about 1.3 pounds.

Apps: Kindle Fire users have built-in access to the Amazon Appstore, which includes thousands of free and paid games and apps. By contrast, the iPad has a selection of apps that is about 50 times greater. Apple’s online App Store has more than 100,000 apps tailored specifically for the iPad — including apps for Amazon.com and the Kindle.

More from The Washington Post

Nook Tablet, Amazon Kindle Fire ‘mini-tablets’ will shake up market

Kindle Fire review roundup

Barnes and Noble introduces Nook tablet

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