Kindle Fire: quick thoughts

Amzon introduced the Kindle Fire today, a color tablet device with a multi-touch screen. It’s about 7.5 x 5 inches, making it smaller than the iPad yet larger than a smartphone. It will let users read Kindle books (of course), watch video, listen to music, surf the web, play games, etc.

At first blush, some may see this as an iPad killer. I’m not so sure about that. First, I think the size of the iPad is just right. It balances the desire for a larger screen against the need to have something portable. The Kindle Fire is significantly smaller. I really didn’t realize how small until I saw the photo showing a person’s hand and finger against the Fire’s screen. 

Second, the Kindle Fire comes with “only” 8 GB of storage. (I still recall the days when we computer nerds thought 800K 3.5″ disks were a huge leap forward—it’s amazing that I now think of 8 GB as being on the small side.) According to Amazon, that’s enough room for 80 apps, plus 10 movies, 800 songs, or 6,500 books. When you consider that the smallest iPad comes with 16 GB of storage you realize how much more you can put on an iPad.

Admittedly, I’m an Apple fanboy. There’s a part of me that wants to see the Kindle Fire flop, along with every Blackberry and Android phone. But that’s just silly competitiveness. Looking at the Kindle Fire, I can see a lot of potential for this. For one, some users just don’t need the power of an iPad. They are quite happy with their Kindle devices, and if they can upgrade to a book reader that also lets them surf the web, watch movies and listen to music, it will be a big improvement for them. Another group I could see using this device is younger children. While I’m amazed at my two-year-old’s ability to navigate the iPad, I think it’s more than he should have. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t think children need $500+ devices in their lives. When I upgrade from my original iPad to a newer model, I don’t think I’ll give the old iPad to my son. For a child a few or several years older than my son, the Kindle Fire might be just the right device. Children’s books, movies, etc. on a Fire would do wonders on many road trips.

Of course, as the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. I’ve long thought that one of the Kindle’s marketing challenges is that you couldn’t go into a store, pick one up, and play with it. You bought it from Amazon, had it shipped to you, and then if you ended up not liking it, you had the hassle of shipping it back. The Kindle Fire will face the same challenge. How well it works will be the ultimate test—stability, speed, and availability of apps will be factors for consumers to deliberate. Many people bashed the now-dead HP TouchPad as being slow and choppy. Until we get a few Kindle Fires out into the wild, we won’t know for certain.

Overall, I’m impressed by the Kindle Fire. I don’t see it as a replacement or competitor for the iPad, but it definitely will fit into a niche where the iPad is just a little “more” than the user wants. Apple’s concern here should probably be whether the Kindle Fire might become the iPod touch killer. Right now it lacks some of the features of the iPod touch, but that bigger display will appeal to many. The Fire may be too big to fit in a shirt pocket, but it will fit nicely in a student’s backpack.

Based on what I’ve seen, kudos to Amazon for what appears to be a smart product. Let’s hope it works as well as it should.

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