Amazon's Kindle Fire: Snappy consumption, impulse purchase device

Amazon's Kindle Fire: Snappy consumption, impulse purchase device

Summary: This review is about Amazon's strategy as much as it is about the device. You forget the hardware and just consume.

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Amazon's Kindle Fire is a snappy tablet that hides Android's warts, serves up the e-commerce giant's various services and is built for consumption. And oh by the way, it's highly likely that you'll buy more stuff from Amazon while you're at it.

This review is about Amazon's strategy as much as it is about the device. The Kindle Fire is boiled down to seven tabs---newsstand, books, music, video, docs, apps and Web. Like Amazon's approach with its Kindle franchise---notably the new Kindle Touch, which is also well done---the goal is to relegate the hardware to the background. When the Fire is unboxed it's already set up to your Amazon account.

CNET: The Kindle Fire: Here to entertain us | Reviews around the Web | Amazon Kindle Fire screenshots |

It's worth noting that there's only one button on the Kindle Fire, an on-off switch. The Kindle Fire was separated at birth---actually the contract equipment manufacturer---from Research in Motion's PlayBook. The PlayBook is bulkier, but the screen and profile is almost identical to the Kindle Fire.

Kindle Fire: Separated at birth from RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook. Credit: Larry Dignan

Where everything changes is the software. Amazon's user interface hides Android well. In fact, if I didn't click on settings you'd have no idea there was an Android 2.3 OS at all. You really can't find the Androidness on the Fire. The Kindle Fire just works and felt snappy for the most part (there were a few kids' books that seemed to cause some latency). Magazines are likely to be a killer app as well as comic books, video is handy for kids but adults may find the 7-inch screen small, apps work well as does the Web browser and the music player is well integrated. The Fire is built to entertain you. This fact hit me over the head when someone asked about email on the Fire---I didn't even think about it. On email, Amazon is including an email client.

With that email note, it's worth noting what the Kindle Fire can't do:

  • It can't take pictures.
  • It's not a device to create content.
  • If you go to Android Market on the browser you wind up on Amazon's App Store. Why? Amazon uses its App Store as a redirect because it wants to ensure app quality.

The only port you'll get is to charge. Credit: Larry Dignan

But like the e-ink Kindle, I'm good with those tradeoffs. In fact, Amazon appears to be going for the two and three Kindle households with its pricing. An e-ink Kindle can ride shotgun with the Kindle Fire and not break the bank. If the price point is right I don't need a do-it-all device. I can live in Amazon's world and for the most part already do. More importantly, the Kindle Fire passed my daughter test. Let's face it a big part of tablet return on investment is handing it to your kids---8 and 5 year olds in my case---and keeping them occupied. Apps, video and kids books did the job nicely.

What Amazon's Kindle Fire really excels at is blending the cloud with local storage. Barnes & Noble made a lot of noise about its tablet and 16GB of memory (Fire has 8GB), but for many of us this comparison will be a non-issue. My music was uploaded to Amazon's Cloud Player and I haven't stored much of anything locally. Cloud and local storage blends together well. That equation changes when disconnected, but 8GB can get you through cross-country flight without any issues.

Every category on the Fire has a store button on the right. I called the Fire a consumption device earlier, but on further review it's really an impulse purchase device. Want the free video? Become a Prime subscriber. Want all your music from iTunes in Amazon's cloud? Get the 20GB of storage for $20. Need that new song? Click. Ditto for movies. And oh yeah physical goods are there from the home button and I ordered some tea. Amazon isn't annoying with the shopping pitches, but the ecosystem is all about e-commerce. With the Kindle Fire you're in Amazon's world. That world happens to be about commerce and services.

I couldn't help but play with the Kindle Fire and chuckle at Wall Street analysts who have been fretting about margins. Amazon will get its returns---probably within a month from the time the Fire is purchased. It's hard not to buy something. At $199, Amazon doesn't need much to break even. And if you buy the lifetime value of a customer argument, carrying the Kindle Fire is really like toting an e-commerce kiosk.

Amazon's price points will lead to two Kindle households. Credit: Larry Dignan

The other big theme with the Kindle Fire is that it's also a platform play. By making it easier to suck out iTunes library to Amazon's cloud---I uploaded my library in 2 hours---the company is making it easier to switch allegiance and hedge your entertainment bets. I argue that's highly likely that there will be folks that own an iPad, a Kindle Fire and maybe a Kindle Touch. No matter how you slice it Amazon will garner more of your time. It's a store that's quickly becoming a hangout for entertainment services. However, the Fire isn't necessarily an iPad killer. If anything the Amazon and Apple approaches will occupy the low and high ends of the tablet equation, respectively, and crush everything caught in the middle.

Overall, the Kindle Fire is worth the $199 and integrated well. The differentiation with the Nook will be its integrated music and video stores combined with cloud services.

Clarification: An earlier version noted there was no USB. There is a charger that can be used to turn the Kindle into a storage device to load content.

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Topics: E-Commerce, Amazon, Browser, Hardware, Mobility, Tablets

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102 comments
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  • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire: Snappy consumption, impulse purchase device

    What happens to this "tablet equation" if Apple introduces a 7" iPod Touch with the cameras of the iPhone 4S? FaceTime + iCloud + Siri + a "Retina Display"?! And keep this 7" iPod Touch price point equal to or very near the Kindle Fire?

    Would this hypothetical Apple product simply take more sales from the iPad tablet or would this product steal sales from Amazon's Kindle Fire?
    kenosha77a
    • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire: Snappy consumption, impulse purchase device

      @kenosha7777 Then the two would compete. As it stands today, you have iPad at the higher end, Kindle Fire at the low end and all those tablets in the middle are collateral damage.
      Larry Dignan
      • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire: Snappy consumption, impulse purchase device

        @Larry Dignan

        That's like saying Amazon Music (10-13% share) and iTunes (77% share) competes. Sure they compete but it's clear Apple is dominating. The same would happen if Apple releases a 7" iPad Touch or smaller little brother to the iPad, with Siri, Facetime, 4s Cam, retina....Apple would own that space also. I won't be surprise if they eventually release a 7" iPad marketed towards teens and kids.
        dave95.
      • Pincers of death

        Totally agree about the collateral damage. If Samsung, Moto, and the rest haven't shut down their tablet production lines, they are guilty of turning perfectly good components into e-scrap. They won't sell 5,000 units per year when close substitutes are going for $299.
        Robert Hahn
      • dave: Whatever happened to the antitrust case against Apple?

        Apple was accused of using their massive market domination (as you stated, Apple is dominating) to punish labels that participated in Amazon's MP3 daily deal. That was a year ago. I never heard if this was dropped. Do you know what happened with this case?
        toddybottom
      • Case or Investigation?

        @NZ<br><br>Haven't heard anything about that investigation since last year. If Apple is found to abuse their market position, then they deserve to be punished, just like Microsoft. ;-) <br><br>But let's keep in mind that the labels themselves played lots of favoritism towards Amazon over the years to try and cut down iTunes a notch (out of fear). The music labels have been giving Amazon sweet deals to prop it up to compete. Amazon received cheaper digital music sales and they were offered to sell DRM-free music before Apple.
        dave95.
      • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire: Snappy consumption, impulse purchase device

        @Larry Dignan I don't find the middle one collateral, damage, this may come as a shock to you guys but not everyone has drank the Apple koolaid. I have the Asus Transformer and the their new Prime looks very impressive.
        combining a tablet and a fully functional keyboard with usb and sd card ports and charges as well are much more attrative options.

        and to simple neglect the nook color and tablet is quite foolish IMHO especially since the Kindle Fire is more of a response to the nook color than it is to the iPad.
        jonandkelly
      • Amazon Kindle Fire

        @Dannym
        Amazon need to remember that there are markets other than the US ones and millions of consumers taking decisions on what they will buy as Christmas presents. In the UK we will have to wait until after the holiday season for the pleasure of purchasing the Kindle Fire: I for one will not wait, taking my custom elsewhere (to one of the collateral damage products from, perhaps, Barnes and Noble or Nook). And with me goes all of the content purchases that I will not make. Multiply this by a large, aggrieved population and you are missing out on a huge number of sales. Worse, your market continuity in related purchases has gone. Once we deserters have moved and made an investment in alternative technologies and platforms, there is no going back. Is it me or is this the marketing blunder of the century?
        dannymcd
  • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire: Snappy consumption, impulse purchase device

    Kudos to Amazon; chances are they'll recoup enough before Christmas to silence their Wall Street critics (isn't weird that critics, almost by definition, have no clue what the Man -or Woman - in the street is thinking?).<br><br>And no-one else can really do what Amazon have done. B&N don't quite have the firepower or imagination.

    Even mighty Apple cannot compete, because should someone persuade them to sell an ipad-lite at a loss (unlikely), they'd not recoup as much through sales as Amazon, partly because they don't have such a universal rangeof products, but mainly because their products, like the ipad, all have premium prices: Sure they sell like hot cakes, but the secret of getting impulse buyers has always been competitive prices. It lulls the buying conscience into a stupor! Apple just isn't in this market, and daren't enter it.
    Heenan73
    • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire: Snappy consumption, impulse purchase device

      @Heenan73 Good analysis. I think Apple needs to emphasise the PC like functionality of the iPad (productivity apps) to show its benefits over the Fire. If people just want a media consumption device, the Fire does a good job much cheaper. They can also emphasise iPad as a serious games console and allow it to easily connect to a TV, thus serving as an Xbox replacement.
      The Star King
      • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire: Snappy consumption, impulse purchase device

        @The Star King <br><br>The question is, doing so will leave people think: why don't I just get a low-end PC for a price cheaper than the iPad then? <br><br>Easily connect to a TV? Don't I have to shell out extra dough to buy that "Digital AV Adapter", when the Android tablets all come with HDMI or mini-HDMI out ports?<br><br>Games are a possibility now as we begin to see gaming controllers for the iPad.
        CyberGuerilla
    • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire: Snappy consumption, impulse purchase device

      @Heenan73 <br><br>Right. The iPad was such premium that for almost 2 years, competitors struggled to match it on both features and price. For months we saw tablets after tablets get introduced at much higher price-point than the iPad, but yet it's the iPad that's at premium, to some. Most of those same manufacturers (Moto, Samsung) were forced to cut pricing and make design changes just to compete with the 10" iPad. How easily we forget. <br><br> "but the secret of getting impulse buyers has always been competitive prices."<br><br>And that's the very reason the iPad took off, competitive pricing.
      dave95.
      • Who's XOOMin who

        It doesn't do any good to tell them that. They have the phrase "Apple sells at premium prices" engraved on the back walls of their heads, and no amount of empirical evidence to the contrary will make them stop saying it. They actually think they are being profound by mouthing a canard from the 1980s.
        Robert Hahn
      • Eh?

        @dave95.
        Wrong on two counts. The premium refers to the large margin Apple makes on its products. And if you have read the articles about how Apple is able to invest in large stocks of material, you will understand why their unit costs are lower and their their margins better.
        strangefruit
      • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire: Snappy consumption, impulse purchase device

        @dave95. <br><br>"saw tablets after tablets get introduced at much higher price-point than the iPad,"<br><br>Which Android tablets might those have been? If there were so many that you use the phrase "tablet after tablet"?

        "And that's the very reason the iPad took off, competitive pricing."

        How can you use the term competitive as an explanation for why the iPad took off? There were no Android tablets on the market when Apple launched the iPad - they had the field to themselves at first.
        FrederickLeeson
    • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire: Snappy consumption, impulse purchase device

      @Heenan73

      We'll see. Perhaps people are stingier than you think. I'm not sure how you figure that Apple has premium prices most of the tablets, including 7" ones have had the same price. Even the cheaper ones were within a few dollars.

      Apples phones range from free,$99,$199,$299, and $399. That's a price for anyone.

      Amazon is hoping that people with only $200 to spend will spend even more later to make up the hardware loses? Let's say that's the case. Are going going to give this to your kid? Apple include in-app purchasing with two levels of passwords and people were up in arms about kid purchases. I can't wait to see what happens with Amazon.

      It just doesn't seem like a good strategy is losing money on units by selling them cheap to people with little money and hoping those same people will suddenly open up their wallets.

      Amazon has already taken a huge hit in their profits over this thing and sites are reporting that it is slow.
      And remember, Amazon has a great return policy. Let's all keep an eye on returns.
      dhmccoy
      • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire: Snappy consumption, impulse purchase device

        @dhmccoy You say people won't spend hundreds of dollars on hardware so they can spend hundreds more on things to do with that hardware. I'd like to point out that this is exactly the concept that runs the entire video game industry. The Nintendo Wii was the first console in a decade to actually turn a profit for it's maker. The PS3 and 360? Sony and MS both took hits on those. It's the way it's always been. These video game companies depend on the extras - extra controllers, webcam-esque hardware, motion control add-ons and first-party games - to make up the difference. People drop between $300 and $600 on the console and THEN turn around and spend $70 per game, upwards of $80 per extra controller and even up to $150 on larger add-ons like the Kinect.

        Suddenly $200 for the Fire and a couple bucks here and there for Amazon services seems much more reasonable.
        Caggles
      • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire: Snappy consumption, impulse purchase device

        @dhmccoy

        Your premise seems to be that this is a tablet vs. tablet competition and that the Kindle Fire is just going to get the people who can't afford an iPad. But, they're not in direct competition. The Kindle Fire will appeal to people who want to be part of the seamless Amazon ecosystem (that's more people than you might think). In fact, it isn't inconceivable for households to own both.
        bkshort@...
      • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire: Snappy consumption, impulse purchase device

        @Caggles - I guess you must love the idea of a walled garden, above and beyond even what Apple has. Amazon won't make the money on the device, they'll make the money on subscriptions to get content on the device. Apple will make money from some users through iTMS on media, but you can load your own or obtain it from other sources (Blockbuster, Netflix, etc).
        Champ_Kind
      • RE: Amazon's Kindle Fire: Snappy consumption, impulse purchase device

        @dhmccoy it's generally referred to as a "loss leader" in marketing terms. And if you re-read the article, their bet and Mr. Dignan's astute assessment is that they will spend more money on impulse purchases, probably without budgeting for it (hence the impulse). I'm guessing this strategy works out quite well for them
        wasabitobiko