Will tablets soon be free? Let's start with the Kindle Fire

Will tablets soon be free? Let's start with the Kindle Fire

Summary: By this time next year, even Wi-Fi enabled non-Amazon tablets will be severely subsidized so that users are sucked in and hooked to cloud-based services


Amazon finally unveiled its tablet offering: the Kindle Fire. The Fire is selling for $199 and comes with access to over 18 million movies, TV shows, songs, apps, games, books, magazines, and the web. Also, if you're an Amazon Prime member, you can enjoy over 100,000 movies and TV shows instantly.

The above reads like a great services offering, and the services themselves are nothing new to Amazon. So, why is the Kindle Fire a possible iPad killer, and why could tablets be free?

I'll answer the iPad killer one first. Let me start by saying I don't think it will kill the iPad. Instead, it will give it some healthy competition. Case in point, I have an iPad 2. My children (7 and 3) love to take it any chance they get.

I was recently sent a Pandigital Nova, which is a 7" color Android tablet. The screen isn't the best tech in the world, but once I flashed it to the latest firmware, I was downloading apps off GetJar.com and moments later was playing Angry Birds and a number of others. To my surprise, my children attacked and said, "can I play a game on your iPad?" This demonstrated to me that for most tasks, if you can get "close enough" to the iPad / tablet experience, then a standard Android tablet will do just fine. Incidentally, the Nova is about $180 and connects to Barnes and Noble, instead of Amazon. So, far cry from the $499 of an iPad 2, and the kids don't know the difference.

Because of the Nova's price point and functionality, it was in the running for the best holiday gift, since it was providing most of the iPad functionality at a fraction of the price, and was most likely to be closer to $150 by holiday time.

Now enter the Kindle Fire. It's also running Android, has a 7" screen, but has a far better screen and UI. Its biggest differentiator, though, is the tremendous services available behind it. I won't go into them again, since I covered them at the beginning of this article, but it's clear that if you deliver solid hardware, that will offer seamless integration to a solid software / services offering, you have a winner.

As for tablets being free eventually, I don't see Apple giving the iPad away, but I do see Amazon significantly reducing the price of the Fire, if not giving it away for free completely. Look at it this way, to get the full features of the Fire you really should be a Prime member. To be a Prime member costs $79 a year. So, if you take that $79 and subtract it from the $199 price of the Fire, you're already at $120. So, Amazon is already losing money so it's now a question of how much the company is willing to lose, to gain a true customer, who will continue to consume.

I had heard a long time ago that Amazon was playing around with the idea of giving its Prime members a free Kindle. At the time Kindle was just catching on so to me the logic made a lot of sense. After all, here Amazon has a customer willing to pay money for free 2-day shipping. So, why not give them a device that encourages even more buying behavior since the customer obviously already enjoys the ease-of-use of the Amazon buying experience. In the end, Amazon didn't give the Kindle away for free, but most of the Prime members that I knew bought a Kindle anyway, since they already trusted Amazon.

With the above in mind it's easy to see that the $199 for the Fire is the starting point. Soon Amazon will probably offer a discount to Prime members, and then it wouldn't surprise me if by this time next year, even Wi-Fi enabled non-Amazon tablets are severely subsidized so that users are sucked in and hooked to a cloud-based service. As for the iPad, expect the premium pricing to remain, but Apple will also soon be pushing its cloud services front and center, especially with the iPhone 5 being announced next week.

So, should you buy an iPad 2 or a Kindle Fire? I'd say that if you are going for entertainment then the Fire is just as good, if not better than the iPad 2. I prefer the 7" form factor, and being tied to Amazon's services and being able to stream is going to be a key differentiator. With the iPad only coming in 10", it makes the Fire more preferable for me as a consumer. I also think that Amazon has the streaming down, whereas streaming to my iPad is not quite where it needs to be. As a business user, though, the iPad wins hands down. This is mainly because iOS is more accepted by the enterprise and Android is still being considered more of a consumer play.

Of course, I haven't had any hands-on time with the Fire yet. Given that, the above is all assumptions, but from my experience with a number of Android tablets out there, and from what I've seen on videos and pictures of the Fire, there's nothing so far that would lead me to think that the Fire won't deliver on its promise.

By the way, I pre-ordered two Kindle Fire devices seconds after the announcement--did you?

Topics: Laptops, Amazon, Hardware, iPad, Mobility, Tablets

Joel Evans

About Joel Evans

With more than 15 years of mobile, Internet and wireless experience, Joel specializes in taking existing brands and technologies into the mobile and wireless space. Joel is currently the VP of Strategy Integration for Mobiquity, an enterprise-class mobile solutions provider.

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  • RE: Will tablets soon be free? Let's start with the Kindle Fire

    No, nothing is free, they will come with $50 monthly access fees and WiFi will not be subsidized at all!
    • RE: Will tablets soon be free? Let's start with the Kindle Fire

      @Peter Perry WI-Fi is FREE. Broadband service is a completely different animal. The first Amazon Fire devices are not enabled for 3G or 4G service - so no access fee will need to be paid. In the future, user will be able to opt for the 3G/4G device or Wi-Fi.
    • RE: Will tablets soon be free? Let's start with the Kindle Fire

      @Peter Perry I think the fees, not only for network access, but for cloud subscriptions. If they give the device away for free, then the cloud services won't be free. You gotta pay for it somehow.
      • RE: Will tablets soon be free? Let's start with the Kindle Fire

        I fear the cloud for 2 reasons firstly because you have know choice, you will haft to put your bank and personal details to enable you to access stuff, all your games and music and photo's, will be in the cloud. secondly, which is by biggest fear of all is the security, if hackers broke into the cloud not only could they hack billions of users, they could bring down the whole system, and you can't say it wont happen, look at what happened to Sony, they said they were safe, and you know the rest, nearly six months on and there are still issues. for as long as i can i will stick with my trusty three Hard Drives
    • RE: Will tablets soon be free? Let's start with the Kindle Fire

      @Peter Perry

      I could not agree more with you. Nothing is free!
      Merv Perry
    • RE: Will tablets soon be free? Let's start with the Kindle Fire

      @Peter Perry I disagree, I think we're not looking at the bigger picture. Once everyone has a window into the Amazon selling jungle, the money making potential will out weight the cost of producing a Kindle Fire. They would make the money lost on hardward back simply on advertising cost. Devices like the Kindle Fire are a true step forward for a paper-less society. I salute Amazon for what they've done here. Yes, nothing is for free. However, getting a Kindle Fire at no cost is very possible, expecially when it means sales. Free Kindle Fires = Volume, Volume = demand, Demand = pricing, the rest will be history. I predict it will be the #1 selling device this Christmas. I hope it send messages to these other companies that price does matter in an economy such as this. Especially for products that kick that old antage "you get what you paid for". I think with the Kindle Fire, you get plenty more.
  • You raise an interesting point regarding a child's tablet choice

    I could see a small child choosing any "inexpensive" 7" tablet design over an iPad. (From a young child's POV, Less weight, better handling ergonomics, etc.)

    But at what age does a child express a preference for the bigger 10 inch screen of the iPad? At what age does the iPad's weight become a non-factor in choosing the 7 inch or 10 inch tablet format? At what age does a child put an emphasis on the quality of apps installed on a tablet?

    For example, My 9 yr old niece took to the iPad like ducks take to Sarah Palin's Alaskan bird bath. (Don't ask! Grin.) Even at that age, she had a Google mail account and was emailing her friends. (Amazing but true. BTW, she is now eleven and tablets are "old comfortable tech" to her. How the world has changed.)

    At any rate and IMO, a parent would definitely choose the more inexpensive option for a child's tablet if the child in question could discern no appreciable benefits to a larger screen tablet design or demonstrate a clear cut preference for a larger tablet screen.

    However, discretionary income being what it is lately, a parent normally wouldn't buy a tablet JUST for a child. He or she would buy a tablet based on the needs of each family member. So, as tempting as the lower price of the Kindle Fire is, a parent might very well choose the higher priced tablet designs and pay the extra money for increased capability and performance.
    • RE: Will tablets soon be free? Let's start with the Kindle Fire

      Come on! Most children use what their parents use or buy them. when they get their first job, such as it is, they find out why Mom and Dad choose value over popular, especially when you arrive at the same benefits.

      Final words: No parent in his or her right mind is going to pay $500 for a toy when the same toy can be had for $200. Plus, a child could use their piggy bank to save enough to buy the "Fire". I say Amazon might be on to something!
      • Just because they're similar doesn't make them "the same"

        @windozefreak: While you are right that most kids use what their parents buy them, many parents today are effectively bullied by their kids and get exactly what they want--if they can afford it. A 7" Kindle Fire and a 10" iPad are two quite different devices in both size and capability at the moment and if the kid can convince the parent of such, then the kid will likely get what he wants.

        Now, Amazon does have a huge edge on any current Android tablet with the Kindle Fire. The pricing is just about right (how many people bought a plain, old Kindle for that price or more?) and as a media consumption device only will be perfect for the task; you don't need incredible specs as long as it performs the tasks it's designed for well. I can almost guarantee that the 7" Android tablets have been wiped out by this toy. Maybe, just maybe, it will have some affect on iPad sales as well. But, the Kindle Fire is not capable of all of the same tasks as the iPad. Not yet, anyway. Depending on how Amazon develops it, the Kindle Fire will remain a reader/viewer/gamer while the iPad is still capable of truly productive work as a PC supplemental device. Android still has the capability to compete in this area, but I personally think the WinPhone8 tablets will smother Android's chances there.

        A device is only as capable as the user imagines it. A Fiat 500 may be nothing but an econobox to the American point of view, yet it is raced right beside the Cooper Mini in Europe the same way we race bigger cars at the Saturday Night Races on the dirt track here. It's very possible that the Android Fire could be a Fiat 500 in that sense, but against the current iPad would probably be racing against a stock Camaro or Mustang.
      • RE: Will tablets soon be free? Let's start with the Kindle Fire


        I was thinking about young teens and their buying wishes or habits. I don't know but I think it all boils down to a particular peer group's preference. If a teen's friends are "Apple friends" then the first choice would naturally be some Apple product.

        Likewise, if a teen's peer group endorses a preference for WinTel products then that is what their first choice will be.
    • RE: Will tablets soon be free? Let's start with the Kindle Fire

      @kenosha7777, regardless of the level of my childrens tech savvy IQ, I will NOT be providing them with a $500 tablet anytime in the forseeable future - in my case, that would be the next 10 - 12 years. ;)
      • Finally!

        Someone with some sense! Why would you buy any tablet for a child in the first place? I personally wouldn't even buy a tablet for myself, let alone any child under 14 (if that). I would, however invest in a desktop for the child with the understanding that it be placed in a central location so that I could monitor their use. I have seen too many expensive ( and yes, to me $200.00 is expensive) electronics placed in the hands of children who then proceded to trash them. If I'm going to spend money like that, I would sooner spend it on something that gets them outside, like a trampoline or bike.
  • RE: Will tablets soon be free? Let's start with the Kindle Fire

    You kids said ???can I play a game on your iPad???? probably because you are playing with the Nova and they must have figured out that iPad is (for that moment) is unused :)

    To be fair, they are used to iPad, a device that owned by you. Say if you actually have both Nova and iPad, try that experiment again with you playing the iPad and Nova is on your side.
    • RE: Will tablets soon be free? Let's start with the Kindle Fire


      My impression from the article was that when they asked to "play a game on your iPad" that they were using iPad as a generic term, such as the Frig, Band Aid, Kleenex, etc.
    • ...no, no they probably did not...


      I know a lot of people who saw my android phone, and said that they wanted to get an iPhone too... I then slide out the keyboard and they thought it must be the newest iPhone, because they'd never seen one with a keyboard before.

      I regularly have to explain that no, it's not an iPhone, even if it has the full touchscreen face.

      It's sort of like people saying "google" when referring to ANY search engine...
      • RE: Will tablets soon be free? Let's start with the Kindle Fire


        Apple seems to do the most advertising so your everyday clueless consumer doesn't know of anything else.
      • RE: Will tablets soon be free? Let's start with the Kindle Fire

        Wait a minute - you mean there are other search engines?!?

        sorry, couldn't resist.
  • RE: Will tablets soon be free? Let's start with the Kindle Fire

    Twice you used the word "than" when you should have used "then" in your article! I've heard of if/then statements, not if/than statements.

    Example 1: "This demonstrated to me that for most tasks, if you can get ???close enough??? to the iPad / tablet experience, than a standard Android tablet will do just fine."

    Example 2: "I???d say that if you are going for entertainment than the Fire is just as good, if not better than the iPad 2."
    • RE: Will tablets soon be free? Let's start with the Kindle Fire


      Example one is incorrect as you pointed out, but example two IS CORRECT as it is stated. Ask yourself the question ...better than what??? You will see that "than" is the correct word in example two.
      linux for me
      • RE: Will tablets soon be free? Let's start with the Kindle Fire

        @linux for me

        I believe Wrath69 was referring to the first 'than' "...going for entertainment **than** the Fire is..".