BitDepth 804 - October 18

Amazon introduces the Kindle Fire. Chaos is about to reign in the Android tablet market. This is why.
Amazon sets Fire to tablet market
New additions to the Kindle line range from its colourful Fire reader to new, cheap touch based e-ink models. Photo courtesy

There’s a lot still open to speculation when it comes to evaluating the possible impact of Amazon’s first full colour tablet device, the Kindle Fire.
The hard specifications on the device are pretty straightforward. It ships with a fast dual-core processor, a seven-inch form factor that puts in alignment with other Kindles, if not market preference, and some rich links to many of Amazon’s less heralded web services and some new technologies it’s been introducing.

The original Kindle was an adamantly single purpose device. You could load audiobooks on it and use an “experimental” browser, but the company kept the focus for that device on reading text, and it remains a robust choice for users interested in just that. New, cheaper and smaller additions to the line are likely to boost sales of traditional Kindles.

But Amazon couldn’t simply continue to ignore the growth in the market for electronic reading, and the simple four tones of the e-ink display of the original Kindle proved to be an inferior option for books and magazines with photographs or illustrations.
To its credit, the online bookseller made the core reader software available for virtually every mobile device and computer and that product often did a better job of displaying image-rich books.

But the Kindle software offers an insight into the company’s strategy in keeping its content tied to its servers and pushing for end to end relationships between customers looking for content and its own capacity to deliver it.
On the Kindle that came in the form of a feature, Whispersync, which allows you to read a book on any web-connected reader and then continue wherever you’d left off on any other web-connected reader.
You could, of course, access any book on both devices without connecting to the web, but with a useful feature like automatic bookmarking, why not just let Amazon handle it?

Amazon has been working hard to extend that capacity to music that’s bought from their service with a web based Cloud Player. Expect that to be embedded on the Kindle Fire, but you can also expect it to fail to work in Trinidad and Tobago if the terms and conditions of the service remain as they are right now.

Amazon also has a mighty server backend that it’s been making available for a price for some time now and that capacity seems to the key feature it hopes to bring to the Kindle Fire, which will ship with a minimal 8GB of flash memory/storage and no apparent way to expand that with memory cards. That storage is, according to Amazon’s press release on the new tablet, likely to be intimately tied to content bought from Amazon.

Early reports suggest that the aggressive price point on the Kindle Fire is being underwritten by Amazon who may be selling it at a significant loss to build presence in the market for colour tablets and to sell its content.
But will you need a Kindle Fire? Is it the best option in a small handheld colour reader? The limited memory of the Amazon device is likely to be one consideration for the aggressive tablet user, but the absence of the Android Marketplace app, which doesn’t have the restrictions of Amazon’s Android Appstore locally is an even more crucial consideration.

Apps haven’t been an issue on the Kindle before, but they are a big part of the customisation process for even moderate tablet users. 
Android app developers will also need to craft revamped versions of their software that don’t call on hardware, such as a gyroscope, camera and microSD card, that aren’t present in Amazon’s product.

For the last couple of months I’ve been using a device that’s virtually identical to the form factor of the Kindle Fire, Samsung’s Tab, a full-fledged Android tablet that’s been in the market for more than a year. 
The size is almost perfect for reading a novel or short story but when it comes to reading a magazine or other publication that needs some real estate, your only choice is to read in horizontal format and slide the document up and down. It’s not difficult, but it isn’t the same as seeing a facsimile of the document at roughly its original size.

Amazon’s seamless shop-deliver-read model for the original, far simpler Kindle was a big win for the company, but the Fire is drifting into a quite aggressive marketplace and if they plan to compete, they will have to build more access to their services, music and software into the device if they hope to win buyers outside the US.
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