It seemed, in the heady days of September 2011, that it would be online retail giant Amazon who would rise to the challenge Apple had thrown down. The tablet market was a disaster, a one-horse race where the Phar Lap of the market (the iPad), was competing against a collection of wheezing ponies (everything else).
Yet Amazon had stood, tall and proud, and announced the Kindle Fire. A seven-inch tablet at a $US200 price point that would take the world by storm, challenging the iPad and offering a real alternative to the Apple ecosystem in the tablet space. Amazon’s own closed ecosystem seemed to have everything Apple offered, but in a much more affordable package.
The catch was that instead of taking the world by storm, Amazon was only attempting to take the US by storm. The original Kindle Fire was only available to American customers, and the very services that made the tablet appealing were locked to customers using American credit cards.
About 12 months later, the game has changed. The masterminds of the Android platform at Google have given up on hardware manufacturers creating an appealing tablet for their operating system, and developed their own. The Nexus 7 launched at a similar price point to Amazon’s Fire tablet, but brought something new to the table - international distribution.
Which is what makes last week’s announcement of the Kindle Fire HD so sad. Despite having 12 months to build on its platform, leverage its relationships with content providers and expand beyond the geographical borders, Amazon has again neglected to offer the Kindle Fire tablet to Australian customers. What’s worse is that this time around it has held back access to its front-lit Paperwhite e-reader as well.
Delaying the launch of its new devices to Australian customers is nothing new for the online shopping giant - it did take years for the original Kindle to launch in Australia, after all - but it seems that Amazon’s blinkered approach to global distribution is really holding the company back.
There are definitely going to be Australian consumers who will manage to get their hands on a Fire HD. Those same consumers will probably find a way to access the tablet’s wealth of entertainment content, despite any geographical restrictions.
But given that Apple can launch a new iPad and have it shipping to countries all over the world for a global launch, and Google has shown it is capable of doing the same thing, Amazon’s approach to the world outside of US borders is a clear indication that it is really only aspiring for a distant third place in the tablet market.