Amazon’s New Tablet – Kindle Fire – Takes Aim At Barnes & Noble, Not Apple

(Mockup via TechCrunch)

TechCrunch (again) had the scoop last night. Amazon’s much touted announcement tomorrow will be the launch of their new tablet, dubbed Kindle Fire.

Aside from ad copy that writes itself (Kindle Fire Sale, anyone?), the details are surprisingly underwhelming.

This is not a device to take an Apple’s all-conquering iPad, but a closer look indicates that Amazon may have a different target.

The big disappointment, leaked earlier in the month, is that there is no e-ink, and instead will be a backlit LCD screen. The development of color e-ink is still ongoing.

Indeed, according to gdgt.com, sources inside Amazon state that the Kindle development team (known internally as Lab 126) “opted not to take on the project, in favor of continuing to work solely on next-gen e-ink-based devices.”

Amazon were committed to bringing out a tablet for the Holiday season, especially given the (surprise) runaway success of Barnes & Noble’s Nook Color. So, they outsourced it to a company called Quanta that builds and designs hardware for name brands.

The tablet itself is a re-purposed PlayBook, which hardly set the world alight when it was first released. It will be powered by Android, although not, apparently, the advanced iteration that Barnes & Noble will be running their next Nook Color model on (rumored for release next month).

If both these sources have it right (and one has actually used the device), then it appears that Amazon has made the strategic decision that its better to get into the tablet game now with an inferior device, than to wait until color e-ink and all the other aspects of their wishlist were ready (which will be well into next year).

The big question you might be asking is this: why would anyone buy an inferior tablet? The answer is simple: content.

The software the Kindle Fire will be running will be superior to the PlayBook – Amazon have essentially redesigned Android – but it’s the content that will sell this device.

It won’t be positioned as an e-reader per se (although it will have that function), but as a device which can consume music, games, video, movies, and books.

The price point is a closely guarded secret (we will find out tomorrow), and there are two competing rumors: one that it will be priced at $250, or $300 with a free Amazon Prime subscription; the other that the price will be $250 with Prime (which costs $79 per year).

I think either will be a big draw, but the second would certainly grab headlines, as it would bring the effective price of the device down to $171. Also, Amazon have inked some last minute deals to make sure that bundling a Prime subscription is even more attractive.

Aside from free unlimited two-day shipping, members will also have access to a digital library of movies and television shows – all streamed for free – now bolstered by new content from Fox and digital magazines from three large publishers.

The device itself is said not to be available until November, but the timing is a clear shot at Barnes & Noble, who will launch the Nook Color 2 shortly. Clearly, Amazon’s aim is to get their prospective customers to hold off and wait for the Kindle Fire.

But that’s only part of their strategy; after all, Amazon sells a lot more than books. This device seems, to me, to be a gateway drug into the whole Amazon ecosystem, drawing customers away from all sorts of competitors.

After all, if you own a Kindle Fire (bundled with Prime), you have no real need for that Netflix subscription anymore. You won’t be ordering print books from anywhere else once you have free delivery. In fact, you will be ordering a lot more physical goods now from Amazon.

The device, although Android based, won’t even have access to Google’s Android App Marketplace – Amazon have built there own (and have several of the big app makers on board for the launch).

Essentially, the Kindle Fire will lock customers into the Amazon ecosystem. Or as PC Magazine puts it, “your entire life, one-click enabled” (h/t Passive Guy).

About David Gaughran

David Gaughran is Irish, living in Prague, and the author of Mercenary, A Storm Hits Valparaiso, Let's Get Digital, Let's Get Visible, and this here blog.
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43 Responses to Amazon’s New Tablet – Kindle Fire – Takes Aim At Barnes & Noble, Not Apple

  1. fascinating stuff, Dave.

    My intitlal thoughts are, where does this leave us outside the US? The curent Kindle, aside from small issues like adaptors and instructions, is pretty universal. But for the new product, much like the Nook, this looks to be pretty useless to anyone beyond the US shores.

    Like

    • I think the attractions related to Prime etc., will only hold in official Kindle countries. I know they are launching Prime in Spain, and I have heard talk of France. Can’t remember if they have it in the UK or not or whether it’s on the way.

      I’m not sure if the deals they have made with the content owners like Fox are for US only or not. More details tomorrow, I would imagine. But if this product is mostly aimed at taking down the Nook, maybe international isn’t so important (for this particular tablet at least).

      Like

    • Stefan says:

      There is Prime for Germany/Amazon.de: free next day delivery for € 29,-/year. But: There are no delivery charges for books anyway and Prime.de does not include streaming videos, so it’s only attractive if you regularly order other stuff.
      I also think that the tablet is basically for the US market, which would be a shame.

      Like

      • You might be right – we’ll find out tomorrow.

        I don’t think it’s such a big deal if it is only on sale in the US, or only tailored for the US market. Remember, this isn’t the main tablet – it’s a stopgap aimed at taking out the Nook Color. The real tablet is coming next year with a much higher spec, in-house designed, color e-ink, etc.

        Remember how awful the first Kindle e-reader was?

        Like

  2. Pingback: Short Story publishing and Amazon Fire |

  3. Neil says:

    This is indeed an attack on the Nook. The main benefits are:
    1. Faster processor.
    2. Rumored additional RAM (helps with more intense games)
    3. Software

    The interesting question is why let Quandra (the outsourced designer/manufacturer) repackage such a so-so device unless Amazon didn’t react to the nook color. The Playbook is known for poor battery life. 😦

    Both B&N and Amazon will be like Apple: locking their customers into one ‘store.’ Of those three, only the last has a store everyone thinks to sell in. Long term Amazon will have the advantage due to the physical goods sold in their store; but only for customers in nations with an intense Amazon footprint with large numbers of ‘Amazon associates.’

    I personally am disappointed and I’ll see if the software that interests me can be ported to a tablet by ASUS or Samsung. We already run into limits with Apple’s limits (no flash to watch BBC videos, no ‘sideloading’, print restrictions, etc.); so there is zero desire to enter another restricted tablet market.

    But we will buy one or two more tablets this year (as a family). Now to see if any will be allowed to double as a phone. (With bluetooth headsets, why not?)

    Neil

    Like

    • It will be interesting to see if the Nook Color 2 is a step up again (in spec terms) on the Kindle Fire. My guess is that it will be and that Amazon hope to beat it with the attractions of Prime.

      I have heard about the PlayBook’s poor battery life, whether that is something that has been resolved for the Kindle Fire or not is anyone’s guess.

      And you are right, all the companies are trying to lock people in. Apple do it very, very well (aside from everyone using the Kindle app – but then Apple don’t care about books).

      A lot will depend on how good Amazon’s adaption of Android really is.

      Like

      • James says:

        I see B&N heading the same way as the Kindle Fire. They really don’t have any other viable choice. The question is–will “just” offering books be enough?

        And I have to add: Android = blech.

        Like

    • James says:

      “Both B&N and Amazon will be like Apple: locking their customers into one ‘store.’ ”

      I mostly agree–I think Amazon saw Apple’s model and said “hey, we’ve got to do that”. The problem for Amazon is–they don’t have the intimate relationship with the tablet design that Apple does; Amazon just farms it out somewhere to be grafted onto an existing form factor, slaps a logo on it and *bam*–Kindle Fire. I think this is key, because what makes the iPad amazing is the user experience and the build quality. There’s nothing like it, because there’s no tablet company that cares as much about the user/reader as much as Apple.

      Like

      • Fair point, but with one important caveat: Apple cares on the hardware side. They don’t care about readers enough to even make a modest effort on the book retail side. Also, I wouldn’t judge Amazon’s tablet building prowess on this iteration, precisely because it was outsourced. The next should be a home-build, rumored (uh oh) to have a much higher spec than the Kindle Fire.

        Honestly, I think if Amazon shift 2 or 3 million of these before Christmas, they will probably consider it a success, and I think that number is achievable (with the right price, and Prime bundling).

        Like

  4. It’s never been a device war for Amazon, it’s been a market and content war. Outside of the tech geeks, most people really don’t care what device they have-it is the content they care about it. And over the long term, Amazon will continue swiping market from BN. There’s barely even a comparison, especially as BN downsizes and repurposes its physical stores (more coffee and gift cards, anyone?) Sure, BN can sell you a book, but Amazon can sell you a book and a new set of tires.

    But it’s really just the next salvo in the real prize–the selling of ads and sponsorships for all sorts of media content, including books.

    Like

  5. James says:

    Uh oh. Venturing out into the world of tech rumor sites and “mockups”, David? :]

    Here’s my take on it. I agree that it’s underwhelming, but I’ve got different thoughts about what it means for writers. I think it has nothing at all to do with other booksellers.

    Like

  6. In my small corner of the universe, I’m thrilled that Amazon is coming out with color. This summer I epubbed a short book with color photos and have received mostly good reviews. The biggest criticism is the black and white photos on the Kindle.

    I agree with the sentiments above — I hope Amazon plans to make products that readers outside the US can use.

    Like

    • flashnomad says:

      What program did you use to develop your photo book? What would you suggest using to publish a color coffeetable style book for the Kindle? And, how do you get your book listed for sale?

      Like

      • I paid Rob Siders of 52 Novels, LLC to format my book as an epub doc, an src for the Kindle, and a Smashwords doc. The book is short, about 40 pages, with 21 color photos. I just uploaded the book the same as any ebook.

        I paid a professional to format the book because I knew working with the photos would be tricky. I wanted them to stay in place and not move around in the text on different tablets and ereaders. The finished book looks great.

        Again, the only real criticism it’s gotten is because the photos don’t look as good in black and white on the Kindle as they do on a color tablet.

        I uploaded it myself to Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and went through Smashwords for Apple, Kobo, Sony, Diesel, etc. I planned to uploaded it myself to Apple and found that to be a colossal pain.

        Will Amazon start accepting epub documents and how would this affect color? I don’t know the answers. Three photos in my book are in full color on the “Click to See Inside” feature on the book’s Amazon page and that’s from the prc document I uploaded.

        Hope this helps!

        Like

  7. Stefan says:

    Looks like this Wednesday brought changes for international Amazon customers as well: they seem to have changed/abolished the surcharge.
    I couldn’t understand the new system yet: For example, I get prices ranging from $1.40 to $1.63 for $0.99 e-books. But that’s all way better than the $3.44 up to now.

    And another change: They are giving me (location: Hungary) the choice to switch from Amazon.com to Amazon.de, promising “the low prices I’m used to in euros” (which is not quite the truth, as prices on .de are generally higher compared to .com)

    Like

    • Oh that’s VERY interesting. Running off to check now…

      Like

    • Nope. Still a surcharge here in Sweden.

      I wonder if this is because you have a German email address.

      Like

      • Stefan says:

        I don’t think it’s the email address. But one of my addresses for delivery is in Germany, so that might be it…
        What is also new is that I am offered one-click-downloads on .de as well (up to now I couldn’t download from there). But I’m not sure that it doesn’t automatically mean that I’m opting out of .com if I try it.
        Now, if from now on I had the possibility to buy from both stores, that would be a real step forward (.co.uk is still closed for me).
        Let’s see what happens if I delete my German address…

        Like

  8. I’m torn between excitement over the possible increase in ereader ownership and the desire to kicked B&N in the butt and tell them to hussle to catch up. I desperately want to preserve what competition there is (but I’m also looking at getting hooked up with other, specialized distributors for some side projects).

    Like

    • The Amazon announcement has just been made. In short, Kindle Fire for $199, Kindle Touch 3G for $149, Kindle Touch for $99, and new standard Kindle for $79. That’s some aggressive pricing.

      Barnes & Noble must be very worried (and Apple to an extent).

      Like

      • Stefan says:

        But also bad news for international customers, as the Touch and the Fire are US only at the moment. At least they managed to come up with a multi-language menu for the new standard (which is € 99,- on .de).
        Update to my surcharge comments above: must have been my German shipping address. I deleted it and I’m back to the old $3.44 for $0.99 books.

        Like

      • Yeah I saw that too.

        The entry level Kindle ($79) is available for international customers (not UK or DE) for $109. Now, the product page says that there won’t be any customs charges on top of that, except for VAT for EU customers at least, but when I tried to order it, it slapped a lot of customs duties on it, bringing the price up to around $165 – over DOUBLE.

        I hope that’s a glitch.

        Like

      • James says:

        …and for writers who wonder about what’s om Amazon’s mind when it comes to delivering content on the Kindle Fire, watch the 30-second commercial–and notice what kind of content is mentioned *last*:

        Like

      • I don’t think the Kindle Fire is aimed at heavy book readers, so no big deal there.

        Actually, now that I think about it, and considering my theory that this is designed (in part) to take out the Nook Color (which is hardly a stretch), I remember reading something that despite the Nook Color outselling the Nook Touch, the touch customers bought A LOT more books.

        Like

      • William King says:

        I looked at the $79 Kindle and thought this is the tipping point. E-readers have just gone mainstream. The Kindle Fire looks great but those low price points are the really big news here.

        Like

      • Yeah. Cheaper than a lot of phones – which people seem to consider almost disposable.

        Amazed by the $79 price tag.

        Like

  9. flashnomad says:

    Can anyone tell me how then to develop a color e-book for the Fire? Do you need to use a specific software… or can you just use PDF files? I have some printed coffee-table books that I own the rights to that I want to re-package as color photo e-books hopefully with enriched content (links to slideshows, videos, websites, etc.) And, then how do you go about getting your book in the Kindle shop?

    Like

    • I’m no expert on this, but I will just repeat what I have heard until someone who knows more comes along.

      To upload to Amazon you need a .mobi file which is one of the two main e-book formats. How you get that file depends on what you are converting. If it is straight text, you need to convert your DOC/PDF into a HTML file and then use conversion software to get your mobi. If it is all pictures, or text embedded in the pictures, then you can export an .epub file from InDesign, which you can then convert to .mobi (the main drawback being file size – fees for which will come out of your royalties). If it is more text than that (i.e. a lot of text with pictures now and then), then it gets a little more complicated. Doable, but might not be as pretty as you hope.

      Like

      • flashnomad says:

        Thanks for that input. What’s the conversion softward to convert the .epub file from InDesign to .mobi? As I’m converting a photographic coffeetable book to a Kindle Fire book, would the file size fee be likely to eat up all my royalty? I’d probably break the book into sections of 60 pages so it ‘feels’ more like a design magazine rather than a 220 page photo book. Finally, is there a way to include embedded slide shows for readers that want to see more photos?

        Like

    • Hello, I’m pasting my reply from above.

      I paid Rob Siders of 52 Novels, LLC to format my (photo) book as an epub doc, an src for the Kindle, and a Smashwords doc. The book is short, about 40 pages, with 21 color photos. I just uploaded the book the same as any ebook.

      I paid a professional to format the book because I knew working with the photos would be tricky. I wanted them to stay in place and not move around in the text on different tablets and ereaders. The finished book looks great.

      Again, the only real criticism it’s gotten is because the photos don’t look as good in black and white on the Kindle as they do on a color tablet.

      I uploaded it myself to Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and went through Smashwords for Apple, Kobo, Sony, Diesel, etc. I planned to uploaded it myself to Apple and found that to be a colossal pain.

      Will Amazon start accepting epub documents and how would this affect color? I don’t know the answers. Three photos in my book are in full color on the “Click to See Inside” feature on the book’s Amazon page and that’s from the prc document I uploaded.

      Hope this helps!

      Like

  10. James says:

    Amazed by the $79 price tag.
    It’ll get even cheaper than that–the Kindle just became commoditized. Within the next year, it’ll likely be given away for signing up for consumer agreements. “Disposable” is right. Guess how much profit Amazon makes on a $79 Kindle? (Hint: it’s a negative number).

    Like

  11. Pingback: Amazon Throw Down The Gauntlet: Four New Devices, Basic Kindle $79, Tablet $199 | David Gaughran

  12. It’s not clear to me whether any of these come bundled with Amazon Prime. Has anyone heard?

    Like

  13. Pingback: Tuesday Tips: Dragons, Mountains & Publishing « Amy Shojai's Blog

  14. Guille says:

    After buying the Kindle Fire being too desepcionado me regarding the price compared to other tablets with android with the same size screen. I’m very sorry, thanks for the info

    Like

  15. Pingback: Tuesday Tips: Dragons, Mountains & Publishing | AMY SHOJAI'S Bling, Bitches & Blood

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