My thoughts on the Kindle Fire

Earlier in the week Amazon announced their new family of Kindle devices and even though they're not available for a few weeks, I figured I'd write up my thoughts so that people can have a record to skewer me with if my predictions south.  For those of you who listen to my Circuitous Conversations podcast with Dan Gottesman, go check out the latest episode #57 where we do a half hour rundown.  For those of you who don't podcast, here's what I think.

The new e-ink readers look good.  I've got a Kindle 3 I really like, but the idea of an even smaller Kindle Touch device for $99?  You honestly can't beat it.  There is also a new one with buttons for $79, but I'd say spend the extra $20 and get the Touch. Well worth the aggravation tax to not have to input text like a game code on Metroid back in 1988. One letter at a time. Some people are upset because the new Kindles come with the so-called "Special Offers" by default. Yes, these are ads, but they're pretty unobtrusive. A small sliver on the main menu and they replace the 'screen-saver' pictures of old dead authors with ads for books or whatever? They're not there when you're reading or pretty much any time you're using the device, so who cares? It's $99 for a top of the line touch controlled e-reader and started at $399 just a few years ago. It's almost an impulse buy at that price.  I'm also a WiFi guy on the Kindle. I know that the price of the 3G version includes lifetime internet for the device anywhere in the world, but if you've ever tried to check your email or browse the web on an e-ink screen, you'll know that you'd be far better off using your phone. I'll just fill mine up with books before I leave, thanks.

I think the Kindle Fire looks pretty damn awesome and that's coming from someone who doesn't think the iPad is from the grace of God. I'm of the opinion that 10" is just too big to carry around, and that is the promise of a tablet to me.  Sitting around the house or reading in bed is great, but I can do that on my laptop and I don't have to hold the screen up vertically the whole time. As a city dweller, the promise of a device with books, music, movies, magazines, etc on the subway is a grand one. And I know that my phone can do all of this, but I'm sorry, watching a movie on a 3.5" screen is not something I do unless I have to. 3.5" too small, 10" too big,  7" might be the Goldilocks ideal. Especially when you consider that the screen is 16:9 and not 4:3 like the iPad, which means that the actual size of widescreen movies won't be that different between the two, you'll just get more movie and less letterbox.

Dual core A9 processor, 8GB of internal storage, WiFi, Gorilla Glass, 8 hour battery. Yum. And as someone who likes Android and wants it to succeed, this is also a boon.  Though from what I understand, Amazon has actually branched it's own versino off the Gingerbread codebase and put their own skin on top.  From what I've seen it looks great and is smooth and fast, unlike every skin I've ever seen for the OS. This also leads to the promise of adding apps from the Amazon marketplace.  The Google apps (Gmail, Maps, Navigation, etc) are nowhere to be found because it's not a pure Google device, but I'd be willing to bet $100 that we'll see custom ROMs and ways around that within weeks of launch.

Some people point to the size and lack of cameras and bluetooth support (for external keyboards and such) as evidence that this is a pure consumption device unlike the iPad which people use to create content. But I'm willing to bet that this is exactly how the vast majority of iPad owners use theirs. It's for browsing the web, and reading facebook and email, and watching movies.  Sure there is a subset of people who actually write on the iPad or make music with it, but I have a feeling that's what floats to the top of the publicity pile, not what actual users are doing. At least that's been my experience.

Perhaps the best feature of all is the price. As the old adage says, Apple has content stores to sell the hardware where Amazon has the hardware to sell the content.  And this shows in the price.  $199. That's less than half the price of an iPad.  I couldn't justify a tablet at $500, I can at $200.

Isn't it just a portal to Amazon's content stores?  Sure it is, but really no more than the iPad, there's just less subterfuge about it. They'll admit it right on the surface. I guess we'll know more once the devices get in reviewers hands, but if it's anything close to how good it looks right now, then Amazon's got a huge hit on their hands. I wouldn't be surprised if they sold 8 or 10 million for Christmas.  Finally some competition for Apple.  They've had it too easy for far too long.

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