Since its announcement, the tech world has been talking about the Amazon Kindle Fire like it’s the next big thing in tablets. It’s a reasonable perspective: dual-core processor, Android 2.3 but rootable and therefore flexible, cloud services from Amazon, IPS touchscreen, and (perhaps most importantly) a $200 price tag. It doesn’t have 3G or a microSD card slot, and it only has 8GB of memory, but it’s a $200 device. This could be the tablet everyone’s been waiting for to put a dent into Apple’s iPad juggernaut.
Except Amazon isn’t calling it a tablet.
I’m serious. Go to its Web page and search for the word “tablet” in Jeff Bezos’ letter announcing it or the product page for it. Even the word “Android” doesn’t show up until 13 other features are shown. It’s clear Amazon doesn’t want the Fire to set the Android world on fire.
The company has been very careful to market the Kindle Fire not as a tablet, but as a Kindle device. It’s an ebook reader, a magazine reader, a comic book reader, and a media player (for movies and music purchased through Amazon). There’s a Web browser and you can buy apps (purchased through Amazon’s store), but they aren’t hyping it. While Apple says there’s an app for whatever you want, Amazon is mostly hyping its built-in services, with little word on what additional software you can get for its tablet/Kindle.
There are two possible reasons for this, and neither look very good for Android enthusiasts. The first and most likely reason is that Amazon wants to focus on its own services and make even more money through the use of the tablet. The company is disabling the Android Market on the Kindle Fire, which means you’ll have to buy your apps through the Amazon Appstore. The Kindle Fire won’t have much memory or expandable storage, but it will have the Amazon Cloud Storage service, which is conveniently linked to all of your purchases of books, movies, and music. If Apple wanted a stranglehold on iOS apps, then Amazon wants a stranglehold on all media on the Kindle Fire.
The other reason is that Amazon wants to not only keep the Kindle Fire locked to the Amazon brand as a Kindle device, but it wants to stay away from the Android name. Android phones have made solid inroads against the iPhone, but Android tablets have barely been able to scratch the dominance of the iPad. By keeping the Kindle Fire away from the Android name and away from calling it a tablet, Amazon is keeping people from immediately comparing it to the iPad (even though many tech sites, including us, are doing it anyway). It’s physically a tablet, but Amazon wants us to think about it in terms of an ebook reader and media player, and not something that’s trying to dig into Apple’s turf.
This isn’t a bad thing for power users or Android enthusiasts, though. While Amazon is banking on most people sticking with Amazon services and shoveling more money into their coffers, they’ve taken a surprisingly relaxed stance towards potential hackers. The Kindle Fire will be rootable, and anyone who knows how to sideload a ROM over USB will be able to load any compatible mod they want onto the Kindle Fire.
This is a welcome and reasonable position; any user who knows how to mod an Android device will work hard to undo whatever security measures Amazon puts in place, and anyone who doesn’t will make up for the lack of media purchases from that small, skilled subgroup. This way, Amazon doesn’t have to put any real effort to thwarting a group of users who won’t send much more money its way anyway (and who might actually stop buying physical products from it if they took a hardheaded enough stance). The vast majority of users don’t know how to mod their devices, and will actually treat the Kindle Fire the way Amazon wants them to: like a portal for buying media from Amazon, and not an app-rich tablet.
The Kindle Fire will be a tablet for users who know how to take advantage of a tablet, and it will be a Kindle for users who just want a media player and book reader. At $200, it’s hard to complain about either use. Of course, we’ll be looking at the Kindle Fire as a tablet, because that’s what it is in every way: an Android-based device with a 7-inch screen and no 3G connectivity. It’s “really” a tablet, even if tons of people don’t see it that way. And if tons of people don’t see it that way, we might finally see some major Android tablet progress; it’ll get an Android-based device into the hands of hundreds of thousands who wouldn’t consider a Samsung Galaxy Tab or an Asus Transformer, and who, after playing with the Kindle, might take a second look at the iPad and think, “I don’t really need that. I already have a—hey, wait a second!”
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