Just when we thought that Apple had the tablet market all to themselves, Amazon have stunned us with the Kindle Fire; a tablet that might just cause some sleepless nights for the folk at Cupertino.
By Leo Stiles
As far as stealing thunder goes, Amazon have pulled off a textbook example of how to run in and steal the limelight from a competitor, just when the world’s media was about to give them a weeks worth of free publicity.
We are of course referring to the impending announcement of Apple’s new iPhone but even after months of feverish speculation about the ethereal smartphone, all we can talk about right now is Amazon’s new additions to its Kindle family.
There are good reasons to get excited about the new Kindle and Kindle Touch but it’s the potentially disruptive Kindle Fire which has the potential to be the first in a line of tablets that are going to give Apple CEO Tim Cook more than a few sleepless nights in the coming years.
OK, let’s get the tech specs out of the way first because they are the least interesting aspect of the tablet. The Kindle Fire has similar dimensions to Blackberry’s Playbook with a screen size of 7-inches with a sub HD resolution of 1024x600. Under the hood it sports a 1GHz dual-core CPU with just 512MB of Ram and 8GB of onboard storage.
There is no external camera and only a USB 2.0 port, power connection and headphone jack punctuating the slim chassis. Amazon claims that the battery can last for up to 7.5 hours with wi-fi turned off and if you were wondering about performance using a 3G connection, then you will be dismayed to learn that the tablet doesn’t come with room for the sim card of your choice.
So it's a modest spec'd machine by any standard but since Amazon is asking for $199, it represents extraordinary value for money and is a good $300 cheaper than the cheapest iPad.
This makes it an extremely enticing bit of kit and is the first quality tablet that can be considered to be a true mass-market product and this is before we get to the real reasons that the Kindle Fire is so dangerous to Apple.
The Kindle Fire is an Android tablet at heart, but you wouldn’t know it to look at it. The user interface is a heavily modified version of the standard Android UI and has been tailored to the tablet’s primary function; media content consumption. To this end, the Kindle Fire has access to Android apps (though not the Android market), Amazon’s Kindle store and Amazon’s video and music stores.
This is where the big win is for Amazon as the Fire represents a content ecosystem that looks ready to go toe-to-toe with Apple’s iTunes and App Stores. No other tablet maker has come close to matching Apple in this area to their obvious peril (hello HP) and the Kindle Fire looks to offer all the content you might need for less than half the price of the iPad.
The Kindle Fire also has an interesting solution to mobile web browsing in its Kindle Silk application. Kindle Silk is Amazon’s answer to Safari and is an innovative “split browser” for lightning fast web page loading.
This so-called split approach works in concert with Amazon’s massive cloud servers to do most of the heavy lifting, so instead of the tablet doing all the work, the Kindle Fire will instead be reading from the browser located on Amazon’s servers and because these servers host a significant amount of web traffic, access should take a fraction of the time that a traditional browser does.
While we can’t attest to the validity of this system, the good people over at Engadget have witnessed a demonstration and came away very impressed.
However, before you whip your credit card out, there is a bit of a problem as far as availability in Ireland is concerned, with the confirmation that the Kindle Fire will only be available in the US when it launches on November 15.
Amazon has also stated that it has no plans to release the Fire in Ireland, or the UK in the immediate future. Worse still is the track record of any online content provider to give Irish users a legal way to watch films and television on demand or for download.
You only have to look at the long term absence of TV shows and books in Apple’s offerings to know that any movie and TV service could be even further away than the Fire’s eventual release on these shores.
On paper and pre-launch, the Kindle Fire looks like a solid tablet, albeit one that is not going to serious compete with the iPad until later iterations match it with screen size and power.
That said, Amazon appear to have their eye on the right prize with their compelling array of centrally available content and a seriously disruptive and mass market price point; two essential strengths that have eluded much of the competition. The only real negative so far is that we can’t have one in November like our American friends.
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