The iPad is a gorgeous device, as anyone who has held one in an Apple Store and gazed longingly at that big touchscreen will tell you. But it's very expensive. At $499 for the cheapest model, it's well out of the "impulse purchase" price range for everyone except those with deep pockets. Deep pockets that are full of money.
Enter Amazon and its new Kindle Fire device, announced at an event in New York yesterday. Costing just $199 compared to Apple's $499, Amazon is looking to make the majority of its Fire-related revenue via digital content such as books, movies, music, apps and games rather than the hardware itself. A lower financial barrier to entry means more prospective customers spending more on digital media in small bursts, after all.
The Kindle Fire is 7" in size compared to the iPad's 10". Being a non-Apple device, it can't use iOS, so it runs on Google's Android operating system. Unlike the iPad, it doesn't include a camera or microphone, nor does it offer 3G Internet access. It does, however, make use of Amazon's Cloud Storage and WhisperSync systems -- including for non-book digital media -- allowing users to easily store their content either in the cloud or on their device as suits them, and pick up where they left off on a different device whether they were watching a movie or reading a book.
The device's success will depend almost entirely on the digital content available for it. Amazon already has a wealth of ebooks available via its Kindle Store, and the Amazon Appstore features a large number of the most popular Android apps -- those which aren't available via Amazon's own Appstore are easy enough to find from other sources such as the Android Marketplace, too. Will all this be enough to convince prospective tablet owners to stop staring lustily at the iPad, though?
Earlier in the year, HP released its webOS-based TouchPad tablet and within seven weeks had discontinued it. This caused prices to plummet to levels best described as "crazy cheap." The manufacturer discovered that at this low (sub-$100) price, it wasn't able to make enough tablets to fully satisfy demand, showing that the market had clearly been clamoring for a low cost tablet even with the iPad's rise to popular dominance in the field. It's this demand for cheap tablets that Amazon will be hoping to take advantage of with the Fire.
The Fire is expected to launch in the U.S. in November. Alongside the tablet, Amazon also unveiled a selection of cheaper Kindle devices: $79 for the basic model, $99 for the Touch and $149 for the 3G model.