How will Windows 8 tablets fare against Amazon's Kindle Fire?

How will Windows 8 tablets fare against Amazon's Kindle Fire?

Summary: Windows 8 tablets, expected out in 2012, have some new and formidable competition from Amazon's newly announced Kindle Fire tablet.

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Almost every analysis I've read today about the just announced Kindle Fire tablet from Amazon pits the Kindle Fire against the iPad and various Android tablets.

Even though Windows 8 tablets are still possibly a year away from shipping, Microsoft needs to be factored in here, too..

Will potential new tablet buyers want this?

This?

Or this?

Obviously, buying choices aren't entirely based on just one factor. It's not just the user interface that is the ultimate differentiator. Price, apps, usage plans, device weight, battery life, overall look and feel and many more factors matter, too. And we don't know enough about Windows 8 -- beyond the user interface and legacy app support plans -- to truly evaluate it against the existing and coming competition.

For me, portability is perhaps my No. 1 evaluation criteria for tablets. What makes a tablet portable (or not)? An easy-to-carry form factor, excellent (8-hour-plus) battery life, obviating the need to carry extra batteries and power cords; and fast boot-up/shut-down, enabling me to instantly start or finish using the device. That's why I bought an iPad last year; I couldn't find a Windows PC in tablet form factor that met these requirements. If the Amazon Kindle had been out then, I definitely would have considered it -- and possibly bought it -- instead of my iPad.

The Samsung prototype tablets Microsoft gave Build attendees were not very portable compared to the 7-inch-screen, 14.6 ounce Kindle Fire. There are indications that Intel-based PC vendors are (finally) getting the message that even us PC users prefer thin and light devices. And though we have yet to get to test drive ARM-based Windows 8 tablets, thin and light has been their typical calling card.

Microsoft's Windows team isn't going to allow itself to be rushed to market with Windows 8, no matter which other vendors enter and at what price. I don't think Microsoft's lateness with a true iPad and Kindle Fire competitor is an impossible-to-overcome hurdle. And the $200 price tag of the Kindle Fire isn't a deal breaker, as Microsoft can subsidize with the best of them.

I do think the Kindle Fire makes it even more imperative that Microsoft has a strong cloud story to tell with Windows 8. We know very little about the Softies' strategy here, beyond the fact that users can log onto Windows 8 using their Windows Live IDs and sync their settings and data across Windows 8 PCs in this way. SkyDrive is Microsoft's wildcard here and the Windows Live team has shared only some very brief glimpses about its plans for enabling Windows 8 users to capitalize on Microsoft's drive in the cloud. (Unlimited SkyDrive storage for photos and documents would be a good start.)

What else do Windows 8 tablets need to deliver to stay competitive against future iPads and Amazon tablets, in your opinion?  I'm wondering whether Microsoft could/should introduce a less-capable tablet (based on the Windows core that doesn't offer legacy app support, perhaps) to fend off its rivals at the low end.... Thoughts?

Topics: Laptops, Amazon, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility, Tablets, Windows

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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46 comments
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  • Not really in competition

    Seems to me that the Amazon Fire & potential Windows 8 Tablets are targeting 2 different, but possibly overlapping, markets. Amazon Fire is basically a media consumption device where Windows 8 Tablets are that, but also productivity devices.
    drisner
    • RE: How will Windows 8 tablets fare against Amazon's Kindle Fire?

      @drisner
      I agree. Maybe they give away a few Fire with every Win 8 computer. People will use both for different things.
      sharkboyjohn
    • Exactly. Or at least thats the implication so far.

      @drisner <br>First off, price points virtually dictate where the competition is in this kind of product. For example, if your tablet can do everything that another tablet can do, then at first blush one would expect competition with that other tablet. Of course if you only cost 40% of the other tablet then your product is likely a "killer" and there will not be much of a competition. If your product cost 40% less and it cannot do quite as much as the other tablet, or the quality is off by a bit, then competition isn't as likely, or at least minimal, as most buyers will find one tablet at a different price point and capability an obviously better fit for their needs and wants then the prospective competition. True competing products really have to have some fairly direct similarities as opposed to significant defining differences. Otherwise the possibilities of customers actually having any difficulty in deciding on which product they want tends to be relatively non existent and thats not much of a competition.<br><br>As with may popular products, there is always talk of an iPad killer. An iPad killer may be a difficult thing to create, often any type of "killer" product can be very difficult to create. The ear marks of a "killer" product most often come by way of a deadly double whammy, and when someone does it, it usually is a "killer". The double whammy is firstly some significant improvement in usability/productivity/power/features kind of thing, over the current front runner, and secondly is, it will usually run hand in hand with a better price. Hard to do. But when it does, its usually a killer.<br><br>So far nothing has come out in the tablet form that is an iPad killer. The iPad has enough quality and size and capability, combined with its Apple environment make it a very salable item at its $500 price point. So far the competition always has missed in at least enough areas to fall significantly short of an iPad killer.<br><br>Get ready for the screaming.<br><br>The way things look right now, the only company who seems to have at least a shot at an iPad killer would be Microsoft. If Microsoft can put a full blown functional OS on some good quality hardware and find a way to bring it into the stores for under $500, even a little under, it could be a killer. Not of course among the Apple only faithful, but quite frankly, as loud as they are they are still in the small minority and most people who bought iPads, iPhones or even iPods may love their devices but they are not of the rabid ilk of many Mac users who would just as soon cut off your head as let you get away with explaining why you prefer Windows.<br><br>If Microsoft actually manages to put a real computer into a tablet format, and of course not botch it up somehow, and they are close to the iPad in price it will be a very competitive product, if they do a real nice job of it and the price is notably lower then an iPad, you will see iPads run into trouble because an iPad fails at being what most people have come to think of as a real computer.
      Cayble
      • AMEN

        @Cayble

        Couldn't have said it any better. I don't understand why Mary Jo didn't note this in her post better.

        A Windows 8 Tablet not only will have an impact on the iPad but it will begin to eat away at the netbook/laptop market. Eventually, the the only laptops/netbooks available will technically be Tablets with a "snap-on" keyboards if you need the physical UI for better productivity on the go.
        spaulagain2
      • RE: How will Windows 8 tablets fare against Amazon's Kindle Fire?

        @Cayble
        Nobody seems to be getting this: you cant't run legacy apps on ARM based processors, so the only Windows 8 that can compete with the iPad in terms of size, battery life, and performance WON"T RUN WINDOWS LEGACY APPS. I.e. wont run any of the latest Windows 7 apps you have on your PC or 10+ year old Windows 9x or Windows NT based apps. NADA.
        'But' you say 'x86 based tablets running Windows 8 will be able to run Legacy apps'. Yes they will....and there is NO IMPROVEMENT in Windows 8 for running these apps on x86 tablets versus Windows 7. In other words: any tablet running Windows 8 AND supporting lexacy apps will have the same compromise between performance and battery life/size that all current Windos 7 tablets have. They wont be iPad killers.
        I'm a Windows user and I'm looking forward to using Windows 8....but I see a major public-relations disaster in the making as Microsoft fails to explain this to consumers.
        People wont want to run the MetroUI on their desktops or laptops (too touch oriented and takes more clicks to get things done compared to the current desktop paradigm when using keyboard and mouse). Metro shines on tablets....but can only really compete hardware-wise with the iPad when it ditches legacy apps. At that point, why would anybody buy a Windows 8 tablet with relatively no apps versus an iPad?
        It amazes me that non of the tech journalists gushing of Windows 8 are pointing out the 'Windows 8 on tablets' reality. To sum up: Windows 8 can only compete against iPad hardware when it can't run Windows apps, at which point its 1 advantage is lost.
        r_scott_carey@...
  • RE: What else do Windows 8 tablets need to deliver

    One word: Content.
    markrendle
  • RE: How will Windows 8 tablets fare against Amazon's Kindle Fire?

    I have zero interest in the Kindle Fire. I will get a Kindle touch, because, for me, e-readers must be based on e-paper.

    As for my main device, it's already the Samsung device they gave us at //Build. Of course, I hope that the battery life gets better, but having a single device, it's pretty cool. This thing runs Visual Studio with any problems!

    Consumption only devices aren't my thing, I guess.
    pedroroque
  • A whole new tablet category

    Low Cost! You can't compare the Fire to any other tablet really. Until there are others in the sub $200 range with similar specs and capabilities. The Fire is a device designed to entertain you. Not to replace a laptop, netbook. Galaxy Tab or iPad. I do not own a Tablet because I did not really see a need to spend that much on a device like that. But, I have been looking to buy a Kindle and now the Fire looks very attractive because it is 'NOT" a "tablet computer" but a tablet entertainment device. I guess it could be compared to the Nook, but even then the Fire is much more capable for entertainment. I believe this new category of tablet entertainment device will be the next big thing. The right price, the right features & the right content on a simple to use device. Just about perfect for most of us non super techies that don't need the best, fastest, super device.
    tgschmidt
    • The thing I like about the Kindle Fire ...

      @tgschmidt,

      ... is that its an Amazon walled garden / gated community, to Amazon paid services. It appears to be well implemented, and should attract a lot of customers who like consuming Amazon ebook, magazine, music, movie, and other digital content. The Kindle Fire is certainly not for everyone, but it should attract quite a bit of reading enthusiasts and others attracted to Amazon services, and have those people regularly enjoy services for a fee.

      While the Kindle Fire is really not a Win 8 competitor, I do believe MS' online division can learn from it. This is what MS' online division should be all about: providing highly differentiated Windows user experiences, compelling enough for customers to pay for. E.g. Bing powers a lot of really great stuff, but increasing amounts of the information it provides, and the experiences it powers, should be paid for. MS online services great focus should be to provide a gated community that is so compelling, everyone wants to get in - many of whom won't mind doing so for a fee. This would allow Bing and MS other services to make money a sooner, than if they take the Google route.

      I don't think the Kindle Fire is a threat to the iPad, Windows 8, or even the larger Android market. It's really a targeted device, and an ingenious way to attract and keep people using Amazon services.
      P. Douglas
  • RE: How will Windows 8 tablets fare against Amazon's Kindle Fire?

    Windows 8 uses around 16GB of drive space and will be shipping with an antivirus app. Nuff said
    explodingwalrus
    • RE: How will Windows 8 tablets fare against Amazon's Kindle Fire?

      @explodingwalrus

      Like to troll, eh???
      pedroroque
  • RE: How will Windows 8 tablets fare against Amazon's Kindle Fire?

    They serve to two different entities totally. Microsoft's big bet is consumerization of enterprise market. They target this for Enterprises with Azure backend. Microsoft may not have books, newspapers or magazines as content, but they have games, apps, music and video.
    Ram U
    • RE: How will Windows 8 tablets fare against Amazon's Kindle Fire?

      @Rama.NET

      I have Kindle on my Win8 tablet!
      pedroroque
    • Arguably the more important of the 2 groups

      @Rama.NET
      "Microsoft may not have books, newspapers or magazines as content, but they have games, apps, music and video. "

      Non free eBooks have been successful but newspapers and magazines have been utter failures on the iPad. Even with the iPad though, Apple has utterly failed to make any money with eBooks. iBooks is a failure and all the big content players told Apple to shove their 30% fee.

      Games, apps, music, and video though? These are still good money makers.

      I still give Windows 8 slates a slim to none chance of being successful but they'll do better than $499 Android tablets will.

      You can't compete against the iPad. Amazon knows this which is why Amazon is not competing against the iPad. MS knows this too. HP didn't know this but got out quickly. RIM still hasn't figured this one out and it is painful to watch.
      toddybottom
  • Hmm...

    Is it media content, or app content?

    Most apps on iPad have some kind of Windows equivalent - especially casual games (Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies anyone?). Regular apps are just more powerful on Windows too.

    Media? iTunes runs on Windows (so does Kindle for that matter).

    I think the decision is probably going to boil down to whether or not a given app is available exclusively on a particular tablet, and of course, cost of hardware. Media content doesn't really figure into it, but you do have ALL of the media content in one place on a Windows tablet so there's that....
    Joe_Raby
  • Amazon won't succeed, and here's why:

    They don't have any media content available outside of the US, except for eBooks. No TV, movies, or music. AmazonMP3 only exists inside the US bubble. As such, these new tablets aren't going to succeed without an international mass market release, and with no media to back them up, they're useless outside of the US, hence the reason why they aren't being sold outside of it.

    The iPad IS sold internationally, along with regional media stores. Amazon doesn't have that kind of clout, so these are just more fluff, like the TouchPad, and all of the Chinese no-name ODM Android tablets sold for $99+.
    Joe_Raby
  • e-Reader versus Portable PC

    don't think they are in the same camp. Kindle is the best e-reader and at that price affordable for all. Windows 8 will make the best portable PC...that leaves toys like the iPad for others. Everyone else will be toast.
    GeiselS
  • AMAZON is a bigger threat than Apple

    The opening of Bezos' announcement ...

    "There are two types of companies: those that work hard to charge customers more, and those that work hard to charge customers less. Both approaches can work. We are firmly in the second camp."

    If Amazon can deliver on this promise then it will contrast to an extra 30% for digital wares proposed by Apple and latterly M$, as opposed to reductions on ALL OTHER wares proposed by AMAZON. In the face of such competition M$ will lose. Indeed are AMAZON not really handing out the touchscreen you use at the self-service checkout in a conventional store and saying 'this device if free to use in our store'?

    Combined with AMAZON's existing media relationships ... I see M$ in a world of hurt now, even before product release.
    jacksonjohn
  • RE: How will Windows 8 tablets fare against Amazon's Kindle Fire?

    Microsoft has less to worry about since just about every Kindle Fire owner will have a PC or Mac, but few iPad owners will get a Kindle Fire as well.
    Jeff Kibuule
  • RE: How will Windows 8 tablets fare against Amazon's Kindle Fire?

    Did you know your windows phone syncs automatically with your skydrive, making privacy a huge concern if you use windows live. Lock your pictures and profiles otherwise people can see your private information. Scary.
    windowsliver