While the new Kindle Fires are not coming to Canada — at least no time soon, from what we can tell — Amazon’s announcements today will force tablet manufacturers to push prices lower and performance higher if they want to stay competitive.
In the low-end, the new Kindle Fire offers a dual-core processor, 1GB RAM, 8GB storage and a 7-inch 1024×600 screen for $159USD. That puts a ton of pressure on Google, whose recently-released Nexus 7 was until now the king of the size/performance/price compromise, as well as various Android tablet manufacturers such as Acer, Toshiba and Samsung. Who wants to spend over $249 on a 7-inch tablet when the base price of a Kindle Fire is almost $100 less? At the very least, the new Kindle Fire is good enough, and if you’re immersed in the Amazon ecosystem, which a lot of users are (even in Canada, though we’re limited to books), its unique services more than its moderately powerful hardware may be reason enough to invest. In other words, Android may be good, but Amazon is building services that people actually use.
More impressive is the Kindle Fire HD, an 8.9-inch 1920×1200 resolution tablet, for a pixel density of 254ppi. It has a dual-core TI OMAP 4470 processor with a blazing fast PowerVR SGX544 GPU, as well as 16GB internal storage. It has an IPS display, Dolby Digital-compatible stereo speakers and MIMO-compatible WiFi antennas. The cost is $299. Then there’s the 4G LTE version which, for $499, adds an extra 16GB of internal storage and the ability to subscribe to 250MB of service per month for $50/year.
It doesn’t matter what country you’re in — this is compelling business. Amazon’s content ecosystem, combined with a curated list of over 50,000 Android apps, is an incredible value proposition. Sure, us Canadians sometimes get left behind in the content game, but much of what is available on Amazon can be bought through Kobo, Google Play, 7Digital, iTunes, etc. But no company offers the hardware, the content, the cloud sync capabilities and the price. Apple comes close, but its 16GB 4G LTE iPad is $629USD.
Amazon also added some intriguing new features to its Kindle software. FreePlay allows parents to set limits on how long their kids can play games or watch movies, and the per-child profile system means that it can be passed around the family without conflict. Whispersync for games backs up your progress in titles such as Temple Run and Jetpack Joyride to the cloud so that if, for whatever reason, you replace your device down the road all your data is right there.
Other features, such as the ability to sync books with their audiobook counterparts, are just simple ways to enjoy content. But they’re new, innovative and value added. This is what is important here: Amazon sells content, not hardware. At $159/$199/$299/$499 for the Kindle Fire, Fire HD 7-inch, Fire HD 8.9-inch and Hire HD 4G LTE respectively, the company is undoudtedly losing prodigious amounts of money per unit. But each tablet sold brings another loyal Amazon user into the content ecosystem fold, and the more invested he or she is in that content (which cannot easily be extracted or transferred to another branded tablet) the more likely to stay.
Even though the Kindle Fires are not available in Canada, or outside the U.S. for that matter, this aggressive pricing will have a trickle-down effect in other parts of the world. Even hobbled by an inability to download movies/TV shows/magazines/games/apps the Kindle Fire HD at $299 is a great price for a good piece of hardware. Add to that a front-facing camera with dedicated Skype and Facebook apps, not to mention integration with IMDB, and you have a veritable entertainment suite.
Microsoft and Apple are expected to release tablets in the coming weeks and months — the former with its already-announced Surface slates and the latter with a rumoured iPad mini in October — but price is now a huge factor for both companies. In the end this will be good for consumers, as the entry point for a relatively high-end tablet just dropped below $200. If and when the Kindle Fire comes to Canada (come on, Amazon!) we’ll be ready to embrace it the same way as have our southern neighbours.