Great Debate: Kindle Fire or iPad: Which one should you buy?

Summary:Tablets from Apple and Amazon are competing for our attention this holiday season and beyond.

Violet Blue

Violet Blue

Kindle Fire

or

iPad

Jason Hiner

Jason Hiner

Best Argument: Kindle Fire

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Fire's a tablet for everyone

Violet Blue: The Kindle Fire exceeded everyone’s expectations, making converts out of iPad fans. The Fire is a tablet for everyone; its form factor makes the iPad seem like a dinner plate in comparison –- and you can get two Kindle Fires for the price of one iPad.

Plus, Prime customers can watch streaming movies and TV shows for free, the app marketplace isn’t censored the way that Apple’s is, and it’s also terrific for kids.

The Fire is more durable than the iPad; it easily survives being dropped off a kitchen counter and can’t be scratched with keys.

People will want a Fire in addition to their iPad, and that won’t be true in reverse.

It’s well worth the price. The Fire is a Kindle with benefits. Amazon’s App store is also far more friendly to developers than Apple’s, so the Fire is only going to get more exciting from here on out.

iPad remains best choice for many

Jason Hiner: The iPad has run roughshod over the tablet market for the past two years, despite a steady stream of challengers trying to knock it off its perch. Enter the Amazon Kindle Fire, the first real competitor that is causing anyone at Apple to break a sweat. Amazon is going to sell a lot of Kindle Fire tablets, without a doubt. It won't sell as many as Apple but the Kindle Fire's $200 price tag and solid design will be enough to nab a lot of buyers.

Still, the Kindle Fire is not the tablet for technologists or business professionals. It is the tablet for your grandma, Uncle Ted, or your 12 year old. It's good at two things -- consuming content from Amazon (books, videos, and music) and purchasing products from Amazon. The Kindle Fire does not and will not have the extended ecosystem of the iPad and the Fire's 7-inch screen -- as opposed to the 10-inch iPad -- makes it less of a laptop replacement.
 

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    sell me

    Obviously you two have your respective sides. Tell me why I should buy a Kindle Fire or iPad respectively.

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Price and choice

    Two reasons: price and choice. Yes, there iPad and Kindle Fire are not the same. But to many consumers they are, and one is cheaper. Also the Fire does some things so fabulously that getting a pricey second iPad is much less appealing. You will not be sorry you got a Fire. In the medium term the Fire won't be able to compete with the iPad's multimedia creation and sharing capabilities, but again, the Fire isn't made to compete with that at all. It's what the Fire is good at that will be the dealbreaker for competition. Think about it. What if Apple had a version of Prime, and for a small flat fee ($79) you could have thousands of movies and TV shows in iTunes streamed for free? Or a paid app a day (and not the cheap ones, either)? At $199, Amazons tablet is $300 cheaper than the entry-level iPad and $630 less expensive than the 64GB model with embedded 3G. Enough said!

    Violet Blue

    I am for Kindle Fire

    iPad has the right package

    The iPad has remained on top for three reasons -- it's the easiest tablet to use, it has the most apps, and the price is still less than what most people end up spending on a laptop. It's a crossover device that you can use for light productivity tasks, entertainment, and you can hand it to your kids or your parents and let them enjoy it and get something out of it, too. The Kindle Fire is a casual tablet for consuming Amazon content and buying Amazon stuff, but you can do a lot more with the iPad. You can work, you can learn, you can create, and you can pass it around and almost anyone can figure out how to use it. The convergence, ease of use, and software catalog are worth a lot.

    Jason Hiner

    I am for iPad

  • Great Debate Moderator

    head to head combat

    What are the market segments where the iPad and Kindle Fire will go head-to-head?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Regular consumers, Amazon shoppers, Oprah and families

    Let me explain myself by way of the Oprah factor. Until now the majority of mainstream consumers have only had one tablet that was the one to buy. And by that I mean a non-phone internet and multi-media device priced below a computer, but importantly - with a familiar and popular brand. It was an easy choice; it was vetted by Oprah. Now it has competition at a lower price point. These consumers are also Kindle Reader owners: Oprah loved the Kindle long before the iPad and had years of lending her brand's seal to it. So we have another widely-recognized consumer-level brand in Amazon giving people a "simplified iPad" with every reason to upgrade your Kindle??? for nearly a third of the cost of an iPad. No one's asking people to try something they don't recognize, and that's actually more important than it seems. Don't underestimate the family factor. It's incredibly easy to use and even younger kids will get it right away - but that's not the only reason I think it's the best for families. It's lighter, smaller, great for little hands and small backpacks. But it is also kid-proof. "Books4fun" in the UK got a Fire and then proceeded to scratch it with house keys, a screwdriver (hard), a box knife??? And it was flawless - even after he pounded on it with a screwdriver and a woodworking tool. Then he dropped it from three feet onto a stone floor and it was just fine, and kept playing the music video he was streaming. He tried an angled drop from six feet and it was same as before. He finally got damage to it when he did a flat-face from from six feet, cracking the internal LCD but not the gorilla glass. Yup, kid-tested! You can see his video of the tests on YouTube, "Kindle Fire Gorilla Glass Drop and Scratch Test." The Fire will be the new babysitter. Trust me.

    Violet Blue

    I am for Kindle Fire

    Oranges and Apples

    There aren't many. I think it's mostly with some of the casual users who think they want an iPad or have been using someone else's iPad. The Kindle Fire will do really well with people who are already loyal Amazon customers, those who want an inexpensive tablet for occasional entertainment, and the people who don't need a full-fledged tablet -- mostly kids and casual tech users. The iPad will continue to do well with people who are already entrenched in the Apple ecosystem and technologists and business professionals who want the iPad for a mix of professional and personal uses. iPad has also been attractive to kids and seniors, but in most cases they don't necessarily have their own device but are using someone else's iPad occasionally. The Kindle Fire could nab some of those casual users and give them a tablet of their own.

    Jason Hiner

    I am for iPad

  • Great Debate Moderator

    More on the productivity issue

    What does the next Fire have to do to court the productivity user? Interesting rephrase of my earlier question here: http://www.zdnet.com/tb/5-109690-2232837

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Tablet productivity is challenged

    The answer is in taking a look at the flaws in productivity - specifically creative content - on the iPad. I don't think tablet productivity on the iPad is as great as everyone has made it out to be, for starters. I think lots of people have been willing to overlook just how much the iPad has had to overcome for mass adoption. The iPad isn't a work device if you are a serious creative content creator - ever try and write 5,000 words on one? For that you need to add a bluetooth keyboard and then you might as well be back on your PC or like me, on a MacBook Air. There's just no way to get needed screen real estate on a tablet without a workaround, so there's that. It seems like Amazon realized that and just focused on what tablets are great for. Still there are a lot of things Amazon can do with the next iterations of the Fire. But don't miss the fact that you *can* do productivity tasks outside of creative content creation on the Fire: there are MS Office compatible suites available, remote desktop apps and more. EDIT: spelling fix.

    Violet Blue

    I am for Kindle Fire

    It's mostly about the apps

    Earlier Violet touched on the developer issue. Amazon is going to have to attract the top developers to the platform in order to eventually land the professionals who use tablets for project management during the days, watching movies on airplanes, and handing it to the kids on the weekends. They use the iPad rather than other tablets for one simple reason -- you can do more with it. And, that all comes down to apps. Whether Amazon WILL win over app developers is uncertain. There is certainly room for another tablet platform for app developers to get excited about, since no tablets but the iPad have drawn much developer interest. And, like Apple (and unlike Google), Amazon has a strong relationship with buyers who are willing to purchase stuff. But, we still have to remember that the Kindle Fire is a fork of Android and developers don't like forks and have gotten particularly annoyed with all of the forking that's already happening with Android. That means the Kindle Fire is likely going to have to show a lot of sales before developers reluctantly get on board.

    Jason Hiner

    I am for iPad

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Amazon Kindle Fire 2

    Ok, I'll bite. What does a larger Amazon Kindle Fire have to do to punch Apple in the mouth? Can the current model work on a bigger screen and different hardware?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Superzised Fire

    Ouch! If Amazon just filled in the blanks and kept the price reasonable, they'd pack a wallop. Larger screen, camera, open desktop functionality, expanded app market, video calling, GPS... The iPad still couldn't stomp the Fire's threat if Apple just upgraded/integrated all the better things about Fire and made the price reasonable. The Fire has Amazon's suite that many of us love and rely on so much - and Apple doesn't.

    Violet Blue

    I am for Kindle Fire

    Go the Galaxy Tab 8.9 route

    One thing Amazon could do is to go the route of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 and be just a little bit smaller than the iPad. That will keep the cost down, allow full web pages to be much more readable than on the 7-inch screen, and give users a tablet that isn't quite as big (and slightly awkward) as 10-inch tablets can be for some things -- like reading in bed. I have to admit that the Samsung 8.9 has a great feel to it. It really splits the difference on form factor. An Amazon tablet with an 8.9-inch screen, a $299 price tag, a front-facing video camera, and a great Dropbox-like syncing service would put a lot more pressure on the iPad.

    Jason Hiner

    I am for iPad

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The $199 price point

    How disruptive is the $199 price point? If the iPad were $199 would we even be having this discussion?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    More disruptive than most thnk

    Amazon is practically giving it away, and is actually giving paid items away on the device itself. Also, considering where and how the iPad is made, that is one overpriced stocking stuffer. People don't have a lot of money to burn this holiday, and I doubt that's going to get any better in the coming year. They'll buy a Fire first, and they'll be glad they did. Also, like Jason mentioned Prime gives users a lot - free streaming movies and TV shows, for starters. We would still be having this discussion even if the iPad came down in price. iPad is a device that does everything generally well. The Fire is a targeted devices that delivers a very satisfying and reliably enjoyable end-to-end experience - it took things the iPad does pretty okay and does them really well. I think Amazon will eventually make a higher price-point version of the Fire, and that will be when this discussion gets really heated.

    Violet Blue

    I am for Kindle Fire

    $199 is the entire strategy

    $199 is the Kindle Fire's most important marketing strategy, it's the most important product strategy, and it's the most important sales strategy. If anyone else but Amazon were selling this tablet, they wouldn't be able to sell it at a loss and so it would cost $399. As a tablet competing on its own merits, this thing couldn't outsell the BlackBerry PlayBook. The Amazon ecosystem and the price tag are the two things it's got going for it.

    Jason Hiner

    I am for iPad

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Control and picking your ecosystem

    Violet you've referenced control a few times. Which device do you consider to be more "open?" I put that in parentheses given that you're in Apple's or Amazon's worlds depending on the device.

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Apple loves controlling content: one bet is better

    I think "picking your ecosystem" is a perfect way to put it. These are not open tablets. At least Fire is on Android. There is frustration around Kindle Fire's app market, in that it's not part of the larger Android market. It's curated, which is kind of a good thing when you see how much noise and chaos is in the Android app market. But it's not as guarded and notoriously closed as Apple's has become. Apple's used to have tight enough restrictions (and I don't just mean about adult content) until a couple years ago when they purged thousands of apps and devs, and began forcing magazines to make "clean" edits of their media. What they did with Issuu.com comes to mind: they rejected the huge magazine publisher when Issuu refused to create speech/content limitations on magazine publishers. That is not in Amazon's interests and it never has been. Amazon is a business that leaves content consumption up to the marketplace. Developers need to get in there and stop letting Apple play games with them. The Fire is going to inject tens of millions of users into the Android marketplace. There is going to be an increased flow of money to Android developers, and this will be game-changing over the coming year. And as someone with an app that has gone through the Apple, Android and Amazon app submission processes (but not the separate Fire submission process), my favorite so far has been Amazon's. They are ready to help you *market* the hell out of your app.

    Violet Blue

    I am for Kindle Fire

    Um, neither

    No open source advocates are going to be running out to buy a Kindle Fire or an iPad. Neither of them are open. Both of these are ecosystem devices that are aimed at making money off of their buyers for long after the initial purchase, and they do it by trying to lock you in as much as possible. To be fair, Amazon does allow some of its stuff -- like the Kindle reader -- to run on other devices, but that's for purely selfish reasons (to sell more ebooks). Don't look for an Amazon streaming video app to show up on the iPad any time soon.

    Jason Hiner

    I am for iPad

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The cloud game

    And Jason FWIW, my informal mommy index seems to be pointing to the Fire. As for my next question: Both the iPad and Kindle Fire make use of the cloud. What company will have the edge on cloud storage and content? Why?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Amazon, of course

    Amazon, Amazon. They've been in this space for a long time and do it well. Apple's iCloud is just starting, and their strategy with it is up for debate. Just this morning The WSJ reported that Apple is trying to hire high-end cloud strategists, and that's not a good sign for this avenue of questioning: to me, it's a little late for Apple to get in the game. The overall feeling by critics is that it's another move for Apple to have more control over your stuff; it's Apple's "version" of the cloud. Many people at looking at the Fire and saying, "this is the cloud I wanted."

    Violet Blue

    I am for Kindle Fire

    Cloudy, with a chance of storage

    Larry, I already know some parents who bought Kindle Fires and decided to return them, so we'll see how it plays out. As for the cloud game, this is the big reason why the Kindle Fire has the best shot at competing with the iPad. Before the Kindle Fire ever launched, Amazon got all of the pieces in place for cloud services (ebookstore, music, movies, TV shows, etc.). Amazon is nearly on par with Apple in entertainment, even though it's been playing catch-up, although Amazon does have one advantage -- its video streaming service that comes with Amazon Prime. Both of them could still use a better cloud storage play, something like Dropbox or SugarSync. All in all, I'd call this a draw.

    Jason Hiner

    I am for iPad

  • Great Debate Moderator

    What's the bigger audience?

    The productivity crowd or the hand the tablet to the kids crowd?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Fire's target audience is bigger

    iPad will stay with retail businesses, content consumers with money to burn, Apple product and OS natives, and technologists that inherently can do more with the iPad than the average consumer. The iPad is a work device (for some but not all market segments); the Fire is not. The Fire has appeal across the board, and more people will get a chance to find that out for themselves than will with an iPad because they can afford to with a Fire. The Fire will do best with everyone that has a Kindle, everyone that uses Amazons services (especially Prime), students, people that travel, non-tech-savvy people of all ages??? Kids and families, authors, and people that want to decide their content filters (or censorship choices) for media such as magazines, books, movies, indie apps and more. I think the person with an iPhone that isn't a tech geek will adopt a Fire as their tablet and even as their entry-level computer, before they'll click with an iPad. The sepia is so much easier on the eyes for reading than the iPad??? And you can read it in sunlight!

    Violet Blue

    I am for Kindle Fire

    Are they different?

    I think a lot of the productivity crowd hand their tablets to the kids when they're trying to keep them entertained in short bursts. But, if you're talking about buying dedicated tablets for the kids then Amazon is going to do a lot better in that market. Which one is bigger? I think the productivity crowd buys more gadgets and the fact that they can also use their tablets as part-time devices for the kids makes a more versatile tablet like the iPad more appealing.

    Jason Hiner

    I am for iPad

  • Great Debate Moderator

    First question to set the stage

    Are these devices competitors? Why or why not? And ponder the wallet share factor.

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Yes: for shop-tainment

    For technologists and app superusers, no. For the majority of consumers, yes. The Fire will definitely compete with iPad's market share for attention. And I think it's obvious that per unit the Fire could certainly outsell the iPad based on price alone if Amazon's saturation is as deep as we think. Don't forget that the iPad is the same price in Europe and the UK - but in Pounds, not in dollars! And that market resents Apple's censorship more acutely than America's. I think the most wallet share might go to Amazon in the end. It's like a fun and easy iPad extension of their store. Shop-tainment. For Amazon and the Fire, they're most likely breaking even on the Fire, allegedly the cost of goods sold is near the price of the device. However, the Fire is a seamless end--to-end shopping experience. It is built to remove money from your wallet; as much as there is free content on it, it's a shopping device pure and simple.

    Violet Blue

    I am for Kindle Fire

    Two extremes

    The iPad and Kindle Fire are splitting the tablet market between two extremes -- the highly-polished, fully-functional machine (iPad) and the low-cost, good-enough-for-a-lot-of-stuff device (Kindle Fire). If you want something that can keep you from having to log into a computer for long stretches and you actually want to be productive, then you'll opt for the iPad. If you just want something to pacify someone who wants an iPad but only needs to read books, have a little entertainment, and occasionally load a few web pages, then get them a Kindle Fire. Boom, done.

    Jason Hiner

    I am for iPad

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Testing 1, 2, 3

    Just doing the mike check

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Ready

    Looking forward to it!

    Violet Blue

    I am for Kindle Fire

    Ready

    Should be fun

    Jason Hiner

    I am for iPad

Closing Statements

Kindle Fire will go to everyone else

Violet Blue

A lot of consumers will see their shopping choice between iPad and Fire - and I think we'll see one winner: The Kindle Fire.
For people that don't have money to burn, it will definitely be one over the other. Also, the Fire does some things so fabulously that getting a pricey second iPad is much less appealing.

The iPad is the size of a dinner plate (the Fire is 2/3 the weight and smaller); it's physically fragile (the Fire can be dropped and doesn't scratch); Apple's app market is censored; it's too expensive; it will never replace a real laptop for writers and content creators; and you're stuck with fighting for bandwidth in high traffic areas.

The iPad is trying to be *everything* - and the Kindle Fire isn't an iPad. The Fire shows that a slick content consumption tablet doesn't have to be any of the things I just listed.

iPad will stay with retail businesses, content consumers with money to burn, Apple product and OS natives, and technologists that inherently can do more with the iPad than the average consumer.

The Kindle Fire will go to everyone else.

Families will pick the Fire because it's inexpensive, scratch-proof, drop-proof and kids really love it.

And Amazon is making it very desirable for its Prime customers. What if Apple had a version of Prime, and for a small flat fee ($79) you could have thousands of movies and TV shows in iTunes streamed for free? Or a paid app a day (and not the cheap ones, either)? They don't.

At $199, the Kindle Fire is the clear winner. You can get two for the price of one iPad and it doesn't ever feel like you're settling for less. The Fire is $300 cheaper than the entry-level iPad and $630 less expensive than the 64GB model with 3G. 

iPad, if you really want a tablet

Jason Hiner

The Kindle Fire is a light computing device for entertainment and shopping.

If you have any intention of using a tablet for getting work done, regular web browsing, editing or creating documents, regularly writing emails, managing projects, educating yourself, or connecting to corporate meetings, then you should bypass the Kindle Fire and go with the iPad.

The iPad is a more complete product, much more of a laptop replacement, and has a far greater catalog of third party apps. It's those apps that allow the iPad to do so much more than the Kindle Fire, including a much larger selection of business apps, educational software, and games.

The $199 price tag of the Kindle Fire looks great, but if you're primarily going for an e-reader than I'd recommend the e-ink Kindle Touch for $99 because it's much lighter, easier on your eyes, has much longer battery life, and just offers a more pleasant reading experience.

If you really want a tablet, then get one that can actually do a few things and keep you away from a computer. That's the iPad.

Kindle Fire, because price matters too much

Lawrence Dignan

The debate was hard fought---largely because there isn't an obvious answer.

Hiner argued that business productivity and more use cases made the iPad a winner. Blue argued that price and integration with Amazon services was king. Ultimately, I can see the Kindle Fire in the enterprise---it already has a few productivity apps. If you assume the Kindle Fire benefits from consumerization, then Hiner's case is partly negated.

In the end, I'll have to go with Blue. Price matters too much, but Apple could easily counter with a smaller iPad.

Topics: Great Debate

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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