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The Kindle Fire

By Jim Zimmermann

Recently, Amazon jumped into the tablet wars with its new Kindle Fire. This announcement coincided with dramatic price reductions on the rest of the Kindle product line as well as news of some new tools and services.

The first question that everyone asks is “How does the Kindle Fire compare to the iPad”? The answer is trickier than it might first appear….

While there is no denying that both devices are “tablets”, they have vastly different approaches.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, stated “We don’t think of the Kindle Fire as a tablet. We think of it as a service.” Although the Kindle Fire is an Android-based tablet, it was designed from the ground-up to work with “the cloud”. This means that the Fire uses the cloud for what the cloud does best:

  • Providing a place to store and access information– and that information can be anything from music and video files, to books, to corporate data.
  • Providing remote computing power

Amazon will be leveraging its leading cloud computing platform – the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (better known as EC2) and its various cloud-based services  – with the Kindle Fire.  Amazon developed its cloud platform based on its real-life experience of running their entire business in the cloud. The EC2 platform runs Amazon’s many online businesses, and now it is the basis for many of the services being provided as part of the Kindle Fire offering.

When an Amazon customer receives their Fire, it will reportedly be pre-configured to access all of their Amazon cloud-based services including

  • Amazon Prime Video – Allows streaming of  tens-of-thousands of movies, TV shows, etc from the Amazon Prime Video Service (a competitor to Netflix’ streaming service)
  • Amazon MP3 Store and Cloud Player – Lets you to play any of your music stored on the Amazon Cloud Drive (see below) from any web-enabled device.
  • Cloud Drive – Provides access to unlimited disk space for “eligible” music for $20/year . (Eligible music is defined by Amazon as “music recordings in MP3 (.mp3) or AAC (.m4a, iTunes non-DRM files) format and must be less than 100 MB in size. All lossless files with the .m4a extension are not eligible for storage in unlimited music space.”)

Amazon has also created a new browser for the Fire, called the Silk Web Browser, that uses the Amazon cloud services to handle much of the computing for loading web pages and for caching.  Reportedly, this will increase the performance of the browser. This is an interesting new concept in browser design, but we will have to wait to see how much of a performance improvement it provides and if this causes any security/privacy issues.

Since I also monitor the analyst community for the Books24x7 AnalystPerspectives offering, I have to provide you with some initial observations from several leading analyst firms:

  • Forrester Research estimates that Amazon will sell 3 million Kindle Fires by the end of this year – only because the Fire won’t be shipping until mid- November. (Source: Amazon Kindle Fire: Tablet Product Strategy Done Right | Forrester – Wed, 28 Sep 2011 |Sarah Rotman Epps)
  • …”with Apple and its closest rivals offering devices in the $400 plus bracket, Amazon could be on to a winner. In this sense, Amazon is not really competing with Apple: the iPad is a premium tablet designed for both content consumption and content creation; what Amazon has done is provide solely content consumption for the mass market at a price point that will appeal to a wider audience.” (Source: Amazon on fire: online retailer announces FOUR new devices, including first tablet | Juniper Research – Wed, 28 Sep 2011 |Daniel Ashdown)
  • Gartner states: “The $199 Kindle Fire initially would attempt to undercut B&N’s Color Nook in price and functionality. The Fire would not only be ideal for enhanced books (books with audio and video) but also offer streaming media services, something the Nook Color does not offer. And while a 7-inch tablet is not an ideal screen size for newspaper and magazine publishers, Amazon might offer some ways to render such content better than the Nook Color and become an initial volley in a longer-term newspaper/magazine strategy which fully blossoms when Amazon releases a 10-inch tablet. Amazon will not have to make a big effort to be more newspaper and magazine friendly than Apple has been regarding in-app purchases and sharing consumer data.” (Source: Amazon’s Aims for Immediate E-reader Supremacy | Gartner – Wed, 28 Sep 2011 |Allen Weiner)

Although we have not had the opportunity to try out a Kindle Fire yet (the expected ship date for the first units is mid-November), on paper it appears to be a device ideally suited for accessing content in SkillSoft’s Books24x7 offering. People with a Kindle Fire and WiFi access (the Fire does not currently support 3G or 4G) should be able to use the Silk Web browser to access the standard Books24x7 interface and read books, listen to audio files and view videos. Additionally, Books24x7 already supports Mobi, the native Kindle file format, so customers with Chapters to Go enabled would be able to download book chapters for offline reading on their Kindle Fire (or other Kindle device).

I’ll post more about the Kindle Fire as soon as I receive my device in mid-November.

What do you think about the Kindle Fire and the tablet and e-reader market? Are you currently using Books24x7 on one of these devices? Share your comments below.

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