Follow-up: Amazon is going to miss the mark

With Amazon’s official press conference on their updates to their Kindle line of products — which in my mind can no longer be considered just a line of ebook readers — behind us, it seems only fair to revisit my post from a couple weeks ago in which I posited that Amazon had it mostly wrong in their approach to entering the tablet market and see how some of my points appear to have held up.

In general, my underlying perspective remains that to succeed on any significant scale in the tablet arena, a company must be positioning itself to compete either directly or indirectly against the Apple iPad. I stand by that perspective: that particular product is the point of reference and the product against which most consumers will make their purchase decision in terms of functionality, price, performance, design and pretty much any other metric that matters to a given consumer. And if the consumer’s own weighting puts the two products on roughly equal footing, all but the diehard Apple-hater will lean toward the iPad simply because it is a known product with a track record as opposed to a new entry.

Having said that, it would appear that Amazon’s Kindle Fire is in fact not positioned to be a successful competitor to the iPad. Most of the rumors regarding the then-unnamed Amazon tablet were reasonably close to the mark. Where the Fire does appear to be relevant is as a competitor to the B&N Nook. Much of the Fire’s capability along with the updates to the rest of the Kindle line render the Nook as an almost-completely overtaken product line (at present). Can the Fire compete there, rather than with the iPad? Absolutely and successfully, I think, but in my mind that’s a different market and a market with only limited overlap than the market in which the iPad and other vendors’ tablets compete.

Looking at my original points:

  1. Size: point stands. I still believe 7 inches is the wrong size for a truly successful tablet.
  2. Hardware limitations: point stands. Comparable to or better than the Nook, not comparable to the iPad.
  3. Forked version of Android: point stands.
  4. No Android Market: Amazon confirmed the absence of the Android Market and the presence of their own app store; point stands.
  5. This is not a “Kindle”: in the sense of being an ebook reader, I still feel my point stands. The screen does not compete with e-ink for reading ease and comfort, and having seen the gooey mess of fingerprints on most heavily-used tablets, I’m not sure a touchscreen makes sense for a device used primarily for reading. So, not a great reading experience. But… if we expand the Kindle line from just an ebook reading platform to a broader media consumption platform, which is probably more correct, Amazon now has a product that, while not as good for books, can provide consumers with more and different content. Good for both Amazon and the consumer, but not if your primary content is in fact books (which at present mine remains). I am willing to admit that if the Kindle line is considered more from a content perspective than just books, this represents a logical transition for the entire Kindle line and a good move on Amazon’s part. Overall, this point was probably wrong.
  6. Hackability: I’ve seen nothing yet to counter this point and believe it will stand.
  7. Tentative first step: point stands with respect to the tablet computer arena; perhaps not relevant if the Fire is considered a (more limited/restricted) content-delivery device.

Other interesting aspects of the announcement: First, the price point has some interest implications, some of which are already being seen/discussed in various places. At this price point, it is positioned as a viable alternative to an iPod touch — although the two devices clearly exist within different ecosystems for content — and may be a better platform for games and video just based on the larger size.

In addition, the price point for this device has already been followed by significant price drops on existing “traditional” similarly-sized tablet devices. From that perspective alone, this entry may have significant ripples through the rest of the tablet market.

So, overall? I still maintain that this device is not positioned in many ways to be a viable competitor to the iPad. Can it be successful, though? Yes, it can and likely will be but in a different and only slightly overlapping segment of the market than the iPad. This is not the device that makes any sort of dent in the iPad’s market share.