So Amazon announced their new Kindle range this week, which included the new Android-based tablet, the Kindle Fire. I really like the current Kindle device, but I’m not sure how I feel about the new products yet. It seems a touch half-baked to me, and there are some design decisions I really don’t understand.
In the non-techie media there has been much talk of how the Fire is a competitor to the iPad. I believe this thinking is all wrong. The Fire is purely a media consumption device. Whereas the iPad can be used as a device to create content as well as consume it. The two are not the same, although they are broadly marketing to the same people. I do think the Fire could impact iPad sales, but not to the extent that some so-called experts believe. The Fire to me is more like a portable media platform rather than a mobile computer.
A lot has been made of the $199 price tag for the Fire. No doubt it’s an excellent pricing point. Likewise, the entry model being £89/$79 puts that into the “disposable” device category. But as Dave Caolo of 52 Tiger points out, the cost price is a touch disingenuous, due to the fact that the device does not even ship with a charger.
The new Kindles have done away with the hardware keyboard, a great move in my opinion. It’s one of the worst things about the current Kindle, making it look rather dated. The base Kindle model is now 30% lighter, and is a touch smaller. However, this change has impacted the battery life, which is halved to one month, storage space (also halved to 2GB) and means the device no longer has any audio capability. It’s an interesting trade-off, given that the current Kindles are extremely light anyway, did they really need to make it any less heavy? I always thought the two month battery life was a huge selling point for a dedicated book reader.
I’ve not mentioned the Touch yet – the new $99 ($149 for 3G) touch screen Kindle. I’m not entirely sure where this model fits in to the scene. It’s a middle ground that I don’t really get. The Touch and the Fire both introduce a design change that makes zero sense to me – the buttons on the sides to turn the pages have been removed, so page navigation is done purely by the touch screen. The easy-to-access hardware buttons gave the Kindle a usability that reading apps on the iPad, for example, could not compete with. I really don’t understand the thinking behind this move.
Amazon have done some really good and exciting things this week with these announcements, I reckon they’ll sell a shed load of the base and Fire models in the run up to the holiday season. I’m more tempted now for the base Kindle myself – as a dedicated “one thing well” reading device, it’s at a compelling price for a very good product. I’ll be interested to see the Fire close up and get a feel for it, although it’s not something I’d personally be interested in (as an iPad owner). When the new devices start shipping next month, we’ll start to see how consumers feel about the design changes, and whether Amazon is onto another winner with the Fire.