If Amazon's new Kindle Fire doesn't make it; it won't be from lack of hype in the press. Actually, I can give you a list of reasons why the Fire leaves me cool.
First however, let's go over the launch details.
Today, Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos stopped short of wearing a mock black turtleneck to do his best Steve Jobs impersonation. He even went so far as to introduce the highly anticipated and well-rumored Kindle Fire with a "Now, I've got one more thing to show you" (a direct rip-off of Jobs' signature line at Apple launch events).
Bezos unveiled a new line-up of Kindles with a price range from $79 to $199. Three models are under $100. That part is pretty exciting news in the eReader world (unless you are on the board at Barnes and Noble, seller of the Nook). The top of the line model is a new stripped down tablet called the Fire.
It runs on the Android platform, although it won't really feel like it to the user. Unlike other Android tablets, the Fire uses Amazon's own properietary browser called Amazon Silk.
Again, there is much hype and excitement about the Fire. Here's why I am skeptical:
1. Is it a tablet or an eReader? It's clearly trying to be both. It's a Kindle, after all. And with the Amazon Silk browser, it is optimized for eBooks and now other media content. The problem is that it doesn't have an eInk screen, which is optimal for long format reading. So, it's sub-standard eReader. The battery life is also much shorter than the cheaper Kindles, with only six to eight hours of juice. It's also technically a tablet. It runs on the Android platform. It only comes in a 7-inch screen for now, and with no camera (so no video chat). So for someone who is ready to get a tablet, this will not satisfy. Believe me, no one is going to dump their iPad or Galaxy Tab for the Fire. Bottom line: The Fire will not bridge these two technologies. It will fall between them.
2. In the short term, I believe the Kindle Fire will sell like hotcakes this Christmas. Lots of grown children will buy one for their retired Mom or Dad, who would likely be more content with a stripped down tablet with limited functionality. It's simple and it is a turn-key to access all that consumable media on Amazon.com. As long as you can get everything you need in Amazon's walled garden, you'll be happy for awhile. This reminds me of all the people who started out on "America Online" back in the mid-90s and outgrew it within a year or two. Even the more technophobic types eventually moved on to surfing the Internet with just a browser. To date, no one has looked back. To me, the souped up versions of the Kindle (and the Nook) are tablets with training wheels. Short-term, they will sell. In the longterm, they will become Trivial Pursuit questions.
4. Pricing. Right now, some are praising Bezos as a pricing genius offering his low-end eReaders below $100 and his new high-end Fire at $199. $199 beats out the cheapest iPad at two thirds the price. More importantly, it beats out the color Nook by $50. Sounds great, right? I agree, the low-end models are where they need to be. The run on the recent fire-saled HP WebOS tablets at $99 showed everyone that there are a lot of people out there excited about getting their first tablet. Priced low enough, they'll camp out at Best Buy to get one. Keep in mind, this is not $99 for a fully operational, fully featured tablet. It's twice the price for half the product, as that. When consumers start looking at the specs and see what they are getting for their money, they'll remember Mama was right. You get what you pay for.
All that being said, there was something that really got my attention from today's launch. Forget the Fire, It will flame out. It's that new browser, Amazon Silk, that is in for a long smooth ride.
More on that tomorrow.