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Kindle Fire: A Minor Threat to the iPad, Major Threat to Other Android Tablets

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Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet runs Android, has a nice screen, is fast, cheap ($199), features an innovative browser, and – thanks to being an Android tablet at heart – offers support for thousands of apps out of the box. I doubt, however, that it’s a major threat to the iPad. The tablet manufacturers that should be very worried however, are those who are also in the Android business, including Barnes & Noble with its $249 Nook Color. The reason for this, I think, is Amazon’s superior ecosystem and the low, low price.

Before the Kindle Fire, There Was No Android Tablet Market

My basic theory of the tablet market until now was always that there really wasn’t one – there was only an iPad market (I must have picked this idea up from someone, but I can’t for the life of me remember where I first heard it). The Android tablets on the market today are about as expensive as Apple’s iPad, but consumers just don’t want them at that price point. In terms of hardware, they are often comparable with the iPad, though the software still lags behind in some areas.

When you talk about tablets to mainstream users, though, all they think about is the iPad. That may be due to Apple’s brand and smart marketing, or the failure of the other manufacturers to position and price their devices in the right way. The result so far has been very clear, though: Apple can barely keep up with demand and the others couldn’t find buyers.

The Kindle Fire: Let The Android Tablet Price Wars Begin

At $199, however, the Kindle Fire could change this. I doubt it will hurt the iPad (though it may siphon off some users), but it will hurt the other Android tablet manufacturers.

The Fire is a pared-down tablet – no doubt about it. It’s small, doesn’t feature a camera, and there is no optional 3G connection either. It’s a perfectly capable tablet, though, and does the things most users want to do on their tablets: surf the web (with the fast new Silk browser, that shouldn’t be a problem), read books, read magazines and watch movies and TV shows. All of this, Amazon is giving users for a price nobody else can currently match. There may not be a camera on the Fire, but I don’t think that’s a dealbreaker for many potential buyers. It does what most consumers want to do with their tablet and at $199, I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon ended up with supply issues ahead of this year’s holiday season.

What About the Nook?

As a 7” tablet from a company known mostly for selling books, the Kindle Fire also obviously competes directly with the $249 Nook Color from Barnes & Noble. The price difference here may only be $50, but I doubt B&N will sell a lot of Nooks (even if they reduce the price to $199, too) given that Amazon’s ecosystem is vastly superior to B&N’s.

Will Users Want a Basic 7” Tablet?

The tablet market outside of the iPad world is still young. It still remains to be seen whether consumers will really take to smaller tablets. I have no doubt, though, that many will look at the full-price competition from Samsung, Acer and others and buy the $199 Amazon tablet instead (and maybe a basic $79 Kindle as a stocking stuffer as well).



4:58 pm


Android Tablets: Hardware is Great, OS is Getting Better, but Apps are Still MIA

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When it comes to tablets, the iPad is still synonymous with the whole tablet category for most users. This doesn’t come as a surprise, though, given that it took Google’s partners quite a while to launch competitive hardware and Google’s first efforts to launch a tablet version of Android were not up to par with Apple’s iOS. For the most part, though, the forthcoming Android 3.1 and 4.0 releases will take care of most of these software issues, however, and with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, Android tablet hardware is now also getting to the point where it’s competitive with Apple’s iPad line.What is missing, however, is the wide variety of apps that makes Apple’s ecosystem so vibrant.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

galaxy_tab_sidewaysThis is not a hardware review, but as others have pointed out before, the Tab 10.1 (which Google gave to all of the attendees at its developer conference last week – including this writer) is both lighter and thinner than the iPad, has a great screen (though it’s 16:9 widescreen takes some getting used to) and generally feels very solid. Other Android tablets from a variety of manufacturers will launch this year and chances are that quite a few of them will rival Samsung’s latest tablet in terms of build quality and speed.

Android’s Weak Spot on the Tablet: Apps

There is one area, though, where Android simply can’t compete with Apple yet: apps. One the phone, this is actually a minor problem at this point, but when it comes to tablets, Google doesn’t even offer the ability to just show tablet-ready apps in its marketplace. The apps that are available, whether they are news apps from CNN and USA Today, weather apps from the Weather Channel and WeatherBug, or e-book apps from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, can easily compete with their brethren on the iPad.

But there are no magazine apps worth writing about, Twitter’s and Facebook’s regular Android apps run fine on the tablet, but are just large versions of the phone app (which is true for virtually all non-Honeycomb specific apps). Indeed, just finding tablet-ready apps is a major pain as the Android Marketplace will happily show you a list of featured tablet apps but doesn’t make it easy to filter regular search results by screen size.

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Another Weak Spot: Built-In Browser

It’s worth noting that there are plenty of alternative browsers that work well on the tablet, including those from Mozilla and Opera, but the built-in browser is just not up to par when compared to Safari on the iPad. It’s actually quite fast, but often has issues rendering complex pages and while support for Flash is a nice thing to have, Flash video playback is sometimes choppy or cuts out altogether. For a company that makes Chrome – arguably the best browser on the market today – this browser on the tablet is a bit of an embarrassment. Thankfully, Android is open enough to allow you to run whatever browser you want, though, but this problem shows that there are still quite a few areas in Honeycomb that need polish.

Would You Buy a Tablet that Only Has 100 Apps?

android_marketThat said, though, I’ve used the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 exclusively for a few days now and it’s definitely growing on me. Android’s support for desktop widgets, easy sync with other Google services and smart notifications (one of the areas where Android always beat Apple) already show that the Android OS can best Apple in some areas.

With regards to the hardware, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the first really iPad challenger. If you decide to buy a Motorola Xoom today or the Tab 10.1 when it’s released next month, you are, however, placing a bet on the fact that enough developers and publishers will also bet on Android as a tablet platform.

Given how far Android has come in the short time it’s been on the market, I wouldn’t bet against it – especially now that those 5,000 developers who attended Google I/O have a tablet in hand.

Disclaimer: Google provided free Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablets to all Google I/O attendees, including members of the press.



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