Amazon gives other Android tablets, and perhaps the iPad, a run for their money

by Ben Bajarin

September 6 2012

Ben Bajarin is Director of the Consumer Technology Practice at Creative Strategies, a strategy consulting firm in Silicon Valley.


Amazon has made it very hard for other tablet vendors to compete on price.

Amazon today announced a series of new Kindle Fire's that pack functionality at an extremely aggressive price.  

I've been adamant in my analysis that smaller screen tablets, like ones that are 7-inches, represent more of a pure media tablet then a general purpose tablet that can also be used for productivity.  

I still believe this is the case and more importantly Amazon with these products is looking to serve first and foremost Amazon customers. But with new 8.9-inch HD models Amazon stands to reach a whole new set of customers.

There are three key features that stand out to me about the new Kindle Fires. 

Now showing, HD screens

Both Kindle Fire's the new 7-inch Kindle Fire HD and the HD 8.9 are very good tablets in terms of hardware and software. The screens are both HD quality, optically bonded, and high resolution.

Visually they among the best.  

Obviously screen quality matters when it comes to media but it also matters when it comes to apps and if these tablets from Amazon have any shot of crossing the chasm from pure media to some level of productivity, the screen will play a role. 

Technologically both new Kindle Fires are equipped with Corning's Gorilla Glass.  Corning's Gorilla Glass has a reputation of being strong and sturdy and able to take some wear and tear. I wouldn't call these tablets rugged but from what I know about Gorilla Glass it will definitely help mobile professionals toting these screens all over the world.  

Also the optically bonded screens help eliminate a level of glare from direct light and by eliminating the air gap bring the screen closer to the surface. I first saw optically bonded screens on a tablet when Microsoft previewed its yet-to-be-released Microsoft Surface tablets. I concluded then and still believe that all tablets should have it.  

Enterprise Grade Exchange Support

One of the more interesting elements of the announcement was that Amazon had fully rebuilt the email client on the new Fire's and integrated enterprise grade support for Microsoft Exchange.  

This signals to me that Amazon recognizes large numbers of their customers are mobile professionals who would love to be able to check e-mail on their devices.  Most Android email clients are terrible in my opinion both in form and function so Amazon's work in this area will be appreciated by all who have tried to use corporate Exchange on Android.  

This move also shows me that Amazon is at least thinking about ways to blur the lines between a media tablet and a general purpose tablet. They may not be there yet but I am not sure we should count them out.  

Kid's Mode

Perhaps one of the features, or I should say experiences, Amazon added with the new Fire's is called Kindle Free Time. It is a customized experience on the new Fire's built just for kids.

It comes with parental controls built in that allow parents to set app or context specific limits with screen time. For example, parents could set the device to allow an infinite amount of reading time, but only 30 minutes per day of games and video.  

It should be no secret that tablets are are hit with the younger demographic and also end up being shared devices at home. I personally use iPads extensively as a part of my kids educational process.    

Recent news has even come out that tablets are beginning to disrupt notebook’s traditional share of the K-12 school market. This is where the new Kindle's may start to get very interesting strategically for Amazon.  

Due to the extremely aggressive pricing and the Kindle Free Time mode with parental controls, one can make a strong case that these tablet will have a play in the education market.

Apple reported strong sales of its older $399 iPad 2 to schools. How much more attractive might a $299 Kindle Fire HD 8.9 be? (Of course, we haven’t seen what Apple has up its sleeve with the iPad Mini yet).

I can see educators and schools buying these devices and deploying them into the classroom in Kindle Free Time mode only.  But for adoption to truly pick up, there needs to be more education-focused applications available for the Fire.  

Quality educational tablet apps for kids is still an area the iPad has an advantage.  

Competing with Kindle Fire

From what I have seen from Amazon today, I believe it will be increasingly difficult for other vendors making Android tablets to compete. Not only because of the quality hardware and software upgrades they have made, but also because of their aggressive pricing: $159 for the new Kindle Fire HD, $299 for Kindle Fire HD 8.9 and $499 for Kindle Fire HD 8.9 (including 4G connectivity). 

Amazon doesn't want to loose money on the hardware, but they don't also need to make a lot of money.  Amazon's revenue from the Kindle Fire comes as customers consume and purchases more Amazon content.

Google is among a very short list of Android vendors who can price following a similar business model.

Of course all of this may get a whole lot more interesting if Apple launches a smaller iPad with also aggressive pricing. It’s turning out to be a very exciting time for tablet watchers and anyone interested in the future of computing,

Ben Bajarin is Director of the Consumer Technology Practice at Creative Strategies, a strategy consulting firm in Silicon Valley.

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