With due respect to my colleague Larry Dignan's belief that hardware will become irrelevant soon, the roll-out of Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablets was chock full of specs -- pixels-per-inch, gigabytes, and floating point operations, to name a few. While services may indeed be sexier than hardware these days, you can't just consume all the high-definition media those services provide on just any cheapo slate -- or at least consume them in an ideal fashion.
And though everyone's jaws dropped when Jeff Bezos unveiled the pricing for the 4G Kindle Fire HD's wireless data plan -- 250MB of monthly data delivered via AT&T LTE for a mere $50 per year -- that plan won't do much for you when you want to stream or download the HD movies Amazon built the tablets to display optimally. (See here for what I'm talking about.) Sure, you can pay a lot more to up your monthly data limit -- since once you reach your monthly limit, AT&T will shut off your 4G LTE service -- but then you're dealing with ordinary mobile rates (3GB for $30 per month, 5GB for $50 per month), not Amazon's special deal.
All of this is why one of the most important features unveiled last week -- the unsung lynchpin to the Kindle Fire as service provider -- may be its enhanced Wi-Fi capabilities. Eyes may have glazed over when Bezos presented the slide touting how the addition of dual antennas and dual-band and MIMO technologies have boosted the Kindle Fire's Wi-Fi speeds to what Amazon says are 41-percent faster than what the iPad 3 can offer, but zippy downloads and lag-free streaming can enhance the Kindle ecosystem in ways consumers may not expect, but will appreciate on a daily basis. (Of course, that's assuming those consumers have up-to-date Wi-Fi hardware to make those transfer rates possible.)
Other than pricing, there isn't a lot that Amazon could offer that would wildly out-spec the competition -- version two of the Kindle Fire was about matching the rival's hardware while keeping prices low. But Wi-Fi performance, perhaps because of its very unsexiness, was the one area where Amazon could solidly trump competitors. It could be argued that a speedy network connection is every bit as important to a tablet's performance as processor speed or graphics performance when you consider how many apps rely on the Internet to function effectively.
Unfortunately for Amazon, as potentially impressive as the Wi-Fi specs for the new Kindle Fires seem to be, it's an easy target for competitors to match. The next iPad or Google Nexus tablet could add an extra antenna and MIMO technology, and there goes Amazon's advantage. Of course, Apple has had years of introducing new features to the iPod, iPhone, and iPad (most recently, Retina Display technology) and watching rivals add them to their offerings, and it seems to be doing OK despite that.
How important do you think fast Wi-Fi performance is to the overall tablet experience? Are the improved Wi-Fi capabilites of the new Kindle Fires a big selling point for you? Let us know in the Talkback section below.