Monday, September 5, 2011

Why I'm Skeptical of the Amazon Fire's "Huge Potential" *UPDATED*


*UPDATED: THE KINDLE FIRE IS OUT*

The tech/nerd world blew up this week when TechCrunch published a break-down of the forthcoming Amazon Tablet, which one of their writer's claims to have seen and played with recently. The writer, MG Siegler, gives a pretty close to complete rundown on what the Amazon tablet looks like, how it works, what software it's running, along with some other details.

Here it is in summation:
  • It looks very similar to the BlackBerry Playbook (seen here)
  • It's a 7-inch tablet with a full-color, backlit capacitive touch screen (like the iPad)
  • It costs $199
  • Dual Core Processor. No camera. 8GB hard drive.
  • Buyers get a free month of Amazon Prime subscription. 
  • It's running a proprietary version of Android. 

The goal is obvious here, in my mind. Just like every other tech manufacturer out there, the goal is to take down the iPad. So- the entry-level iPad 2 is $499 (Wi-Fi only). At that price point, it features a 16GB hard drive, front-facing and rear facing cameras, a dual-core processor, and great graphics. It also offers the App Store and usability of iOS. Pretty soon, it'll also have iCloud features when iOS 5 releases. Lots of people are already familiar with the workings of iOS due to the popularity of the iPhone (and it's just simple to use). If their not already used to it, their well on their way.

This is where I lose interest in the Amazon Tablet (it's actually just called the Amazon Kindle, but that's a dumb name). Offering a propietary version of Android is all well and good, but it's not going to give you a leg up on the competition. Apparently, Amazon "isn't working with Google at all on this one". Their simply using Android as the basis for their own proprietary software. According to the article, "it looks nothing like the Android you’re used to seeing." That's not a good thing, in my opinion.

The Amazon store is obviously built in to every piece of the tablet's software, and that can get old after awhile. No camera anywhere, and less memory means a lower price but also deters those who have a use for those features. Relying on the almighty "cloud" to drive your product and hoping that people will have less of a need for physical memory is a move that would make sense in 2-3 years, when cloud integration is a bit more widespread and not limited to tech geeks, SAS, B2B and enterprise software. Ask people about Amazon's Cloud drive, and your likely to get blank stares. Most end-consumers don't understand "the cloud", aren't yet interested, or don't know how to utilize it. For right now, people need physical memory. Cellular networks also aren't quite robust enough to handle that much heavy data usage, what with everyone's music and movie libraries streaming at the same time. Hell, AT&T could barely handle the number of iPhone's on its network and still has issues with dropped calls, slowed data and poor reception. If they need to throttle their subscribers data plans, they are not yet properly prepared for the amount of network traffic that a cloud-centric society will produce.

Also, what does the Amazon Tablet bring to the table that's so new and exciting? It's cheap price? That's great, but I'd rather not pay $250 for a 7 inch tablet that is running an unfamiliar operating system with subpar hardware offerings and Amazon's name everywhere. Personally, I'd skip it and shell out the extra 250 for the better hardware, better operating system, more app developers, bigger screen, etc etc.

In a marketplace as rapid, competitive and cutthroat as the Tablet/Smartphone world, newcomers or challengers must present an irresistible value added. The HP Touchpad didn't offer it. It came in at the same price as the iPad, with no cellular data support, limited App compatibility, and an operating system that most people weren't familiar with. In fact, even at $99, all I wanted it for was to run Android on it. We saw what happened to the TouchPad. The Samsung Galaxy Tab, running a normal and familiar version of Android, has only sold an estimated 20,000 units. The Motorola Xoom has also disappointed Google, with somewhere between 100k-200k sold. The cost of most of these tablets were equal to or more than the iPad. Apart from a lower price, the Amazon Tablet doesn't seem to have any significant value added. While price is a great method for attacking your competition, it doesn't work so well when the competition has a massive lead in an adopted operating system, better hardware, and an established consumer presence. If you could bring in a 9 inch tablet, with comparable features, more on board memory, standard Android Honeycomb or Ice Cream Sandwich or whatever the hell they call it with incorporated Amazon Cloud drive and Amazon Android App Store, then we MAY be talking about a contender for the number one tablet. This current offering, if it turns out to be anything like what TechCrunch claims, does not make the cut.

By the way, the iPad is at about 25 million sold thus far.

*UPDATE: This link is a pretty decent article with a counter point: the Kindle Fire isn't taking the iPad in a head-on battle. Amazon is instead using the tablet as a loss-leader to push its content, while also going after the mid-price/function tablet market. 

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