Article: What’s Intriguing About the New Kindles?

by on October 2, 2011

Although we didn’t cover it specifically, I did keep an eye on last week’s Amazon event. It had a bit of an Apple feel to it, but I think the end result is simple—the Kindle is the iPod to the world of the written word. However, Amazon hopes to change that with the Kindle Fire, bringing a heavily-modified Android experience to the masses at a very palatable $199. It’s no iPad killer and it doesn’t seem intended to be.

I read quite a bit, but if we were to break it down into percentages, it would be something like 80% online (55% tech news and commentary, 20% actual news, 5% everything else) and 20% print (probably about 18% books—humor or nonfiction—and 2% everything else). My entertainment mainly comes from electronic media, such as television and movies (thanks, Netflix and TiVo), so I don’t exactly fit into the “traditional” Kindle’s demographic. When I do buy books, they tend to be used ones from Amazon or, as I don’t mind a little wear and tear to save a bit of cash. I really have no interest in picking up the same ones electronically and I haven’t quite figured out why. My online reading is a combination of RSS feeds, shared links on Twitter, Flipboard, or news apps, so a Kindle couldn’t entirely cover my needs.

Kindle [Classic] & Kindle Touch

Still, I know plenty of people who swear by their Kindles with e-ink screens, relatively durable industrial design, and excellent battery life. It has become a hit for the reason of a fairly low price intuitive nature. The two lower-end Kindles clearly take this and keep Amazon one step ahead of the competition, by lowering the price and simplifying the design. I view the base Kindle (some have applied the iPod-like “Classic” name unofficially) as something to get people in the door, and the Touch is the very affordable upsell. Both are what one would expect a Kindle to be, much like how the iPod nano and iPod classic were for the iPod family up until last fall.

Kindle Fire

Those updates seeming pretty solid aside, the device that stole the show was the Kindle Fire. Much like the iPod touch to the other members of the iPod family, it is a radical departure from the idea of what a Kindle is. I think this a good thing for expanding the brand. The Fire also hides its Android-ness in a time when many other manufacturers feel the need to brag about what version their tablet is running, how fast it is, and whatever other gimmicky feature it may have. The Fire tries to take the Apple approach of what you can do with such a device and offers a very consumer-friendly entry point of $199—less than an iPod touch.

Amazon Kindle Fire (Courtesy:Amazon)

I’m excited because I see the Kindle Fire as a device that can complement the iPad in the tablet market, taking the low-end and get people interested in tablets that may not have considered such a device at the iPad’s $500 price point. Amazon has curated the entire experience, right down to serving up content directly through their servers, and end-users don’t really have to worry about maintaining their devices. These are more appliance-like than the iPad in that they are a portable window into Amazon’s ecosystem, offer little storage, and don’t try to do everything. Expandability is also very basic and the device is more content-consumption-oriented. The iPad is more computer-like in that it does offer both content consumption, but also the iWork and other productivity suites, publishing tools, and even some media editing tools.

Apps vs. Books

Amazon wants to sell you content—books, magazines, music, movies, and TV shows—while Apple wants to sell you content and things to make content—books (not as many), magazines (hopefully with Newsstand in iOS 5), music, movies, TV shows, and apps. Although Amazon sells some apps, the catalog is rather stripped down and simple. This may even be a good thing, since the Kindle Fire looks like a pretty good experience without adding additional apps. They’ll sell millions of these purely on the notion that you can access Amazon content—in color— and also check out a Web site or two, and take a break and play Angry Birds. The key here is that everything revolves around content consumption from Amazon. Some have speculated the Fire is selling far below what it actually costs to make with the sole purpose of making that up on content downloads.

Apple, on the other hand, would prefer you get content through iTunes or iBooks, but if not, there are plenty of apps and Web sites out there to bring new kinds of media to an iPad. Although it’s still not as “open” as a computer or a jailbroken iOS device, the experience doesn’t revolve entirely around Apple selling you content.

A Great Device?

If there’s anyone who can actually rival Apple, it would be Amazon. Google seems too involved in being a little too technical, and Microsoft just needs to get its house in order. Amazon has already proven that it can sell MP3s, too, and offers some pretty good deals (I buy some on there and some on iTunes), and beat Apple to a worthwhile free cloud service. They get that people want technology that is simple, inexpensive, and functional.

Even though I probably will not be getting a Fire, I’ll sit on the sidelines and offer my opinion because I care about what is going on in the mobile sector. I have an iPad, love everything that I use it for, and will probably replace it with another down the road. I can respect what Amazon is doing with the Kindle and know that these will sell well, especially to Kindle die-hards who want a little more. The industrial design looks fantastic (especially with its Playbook DNA) and I suspect that this will become a hit in its own right. Amazon’s interest in Palm also adds to the potential of this platform, since they could polish it where HP didn’t. I’ll be curious to see how this does go and how Apple responds with the next iPad.

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