Speculating about fire • 28 September 2011 • The SnowBlog
Speculating about fire
No, the title of this post is not the name of a cool short story I have written. It refers to the new version of Amazon's ebook reader, the Kindle Fire, which is announced today. I just want to rush in with a prediction: it won't be all that great.
The Fire is to be a colour tablet, which makes it a relative of Apple's iPad. Well, the world and his Far Eastern suppliers have been trying to come up with an 'iPad Killer' for a while now; they have not succeeded (HP's recent effort resulted in single-digit percentage sell-through and the closing of that division of HP). The problem these would-be Apple-slayers all have is that when they get something to be about half as good as the iPad, they down tools and rush it out the door in order to make some delicious money. And then everyone pounces on it and points out its failings and goes back to buying iPads. And if any company was going to stifle their urge to rush something to market and instead stay shackled to the design process for months and months of obsessive, perfectionist fine-tuning and prototyping, it's NOT going to be Amazon. They'll have decided (just like every company except Apple does) that it's Good Enough as it is. But it won't be, because we're a very negative species when it comes to shiny gadgets and before we can notice how wonderful something is, we have to stop getting poked in the eye by all its problems, bugs, niggles and questionable design choices. A company which could release something which looked like the original Kindle is not a design-led business. And I don't believe any business that isn't design-led is going to do a good job making desirable tablets when we have an iPad available for comparison.
(Incidentally, Amazon have given themselves a huge leg up by licensing Google's Android OS instead of hammering together some monstrosity themselves. But Android will need quite a bit of tweaking to run an e-reading tablet, given that it was designed for smartphones. So we're back to the question of whether Amazon will have been obsessive and patient perfectionists when modifying Android or whether they'll have kept one eye on the clock and the other on their quarterly earnings and rushed it out the door. My guess is door-rushing.)
Addendum: I also meant to say that, given Amazon's reliance on selling below cost in the book market - and given that the Fire costs half what the iPad costs (link) - my guess is that they are selling it for cost or a little below. So whereas Apple make teetering mountains of cash from their tablet, I personally suspect Amazon's will cost them money - money that they will expect to make back from book purchases and media streaming.