Will Amazon’s Shotgun Approach to the Tablet Market Work?
The already crowded tablet and e-reader market recently got even more packed when Amazon announced seven new devices on Wednesday, September 17. Among the plethora of new tablets unveiled by the Internet e-commerce giant was a new version of its flagship Kindle Fire HDX tablet, two smaller and cheaper Fire HD tablet models, and two Kid Editions of the Fire HD tablets. Amazon also introduced two new versions of its Kindle e-reader: a premium version called the Kindle Voyage and a lower-cost version known simply as Kindle. With so many devices featuring a wide range of technical specifications and prices, Amazon appears to have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at the tablet market. The only question is: Will this shotgun approach work? Here’s an overview of Amazon’s latest tablets and e-readers and a quick look at some other devices might end up being competitors.
Kindle Fire HDX
Amazon’s latest version of its flagship 8.9-inch tablet features improved hardware, including a more powerful quad-core 2.5 GHz processor and what the company claimed was a “70% faster graphics engine.” The high-resolution display features a pixel density of 339 pixels per inch (ppi) and what Amazon called a “startlingly light design.” Besides its upgraded hardware, the new Kindle Fire HDX also comes outfitted with the latest Fire OS 4 operating system that includes Firefly, a program that allows users to quickly capture and identify millions of items. With a starting price of $379, the Kindle Fire HDX is cheaper than many competitors’ tablets that offer similar or lower technical specifications. However, Amazon has long been willing to take a short-term hit on its hardware costs in order to make long-term profits from its associated services like Amazon Prime.
Amazon has made no secret about which device it considers to be the Kindle Fire HDX’s primary competitor. In its press release announcing the new tablet, Amazon repeatedly compared the Kindle Fire HDX’s specifications to Apple’s iPad Air. According to Amazon, the Kindle Fire HDX is “20% lighter than iPad Air,” its audio is “twice as loud as the iPad Air,” and its display has “30% more pixels than iPad’s Retina display.” Apple’s entry-level iPad Air is also considerably more expensive than Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX at $499 for the 16GB capacity version. Even Apple’s last-generation iPad with Retina display starts at $399, $20 more than Amazon’s latest device. Finally, as an additional lure for any Apple users that might be concerned about their iCloud storage capacity, Amazon also included unlimited cloud storage for all photos taken with the Kindle Fire HDX.
Kindle Fire HD 6 and 7
Besides refreshing its lower-cost 7-inch Kindle Fire tablet, Amazon also introduced a new size with a 6-inch model. The 7-inch model starts at $139 and the 6-inch model starts at $99. Like the Kindle Fire HDX, the smaller Fire HD tablets combine high technical specifications with a surprisingly low price. Both devices feature 1.5 Ghz quad-core processors and high-resolution displays (252 ppi for the 6-inch and 216 ppi for the 7-inch). As noted by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, “Fire HD is the most powerful tablet under $100.” Of course, when a so-called tablet features a 6-inch display, it can be argued that the device has slipped out of the tablet market and into phablet territory. On the other hand, neither of the Kindle Fire HD devices includes cellular connectivity, which makes it somewhat less useful than a phone-tablet hybrid. Perhaps it belongs in a new super mini tablet category?
Regardless of what category it falls into, there’s no question about which device Amazon considers to be the main competitor to the Kindle Fire HD. Once again, Amazon took aim at Apple’s product in its press release by noting that its low-cost device was more durable than Apple’s iPad mini, which it claimed was “2x more likely to break” than the Fire HD. Apple’s small-form tablets are also more expensive, with the iPad mini with Retina display starting at $399 and the last-generation iPad mini starting at $299. On the other hand, both of Apple’s devices also feature larger 7.9-inch displays.
However, Amazon is not just taking aim at Apple with its Fire HD tablets. By offering a durable tablet with fairly impressive technical specifications, Amazon is also hoping to lure budget-conscious shoppers away from other low-cost tablet makers. So-called “white box” Chinese tablet makers have recently been making impressive gains at the low-end of the tablet market. One of Amazon’s biggest competitors in this segment will likely be Lenovo, a company that recorded year-over-year growth of 64.7 percent in the worldwide tablet market during the second quarter of 2014, according to IDC.
Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition
Amazon also issued kid-friendly versions of its new Kindle Fire HD models. The kid-friendly versions are identical to the regular Kindle Fire HD models except for the addition of a two-year “worry-free” warranty, a rubber casing, and the addition of Amazon Free Time software that allows parents to better control children’s access to content. Several of the customer and tech reviewer comments in Amazon’s press release cited the appeal of a tablet designed specifically for children and some even noted that Apple currently doesn’t offer similar kid-friendly features in iOS.
It seems less likely that the Kindle Fire HDX could woo adult iPad buyers away from Apple based on its lower cost since the Cupertino-based company has long been able to charge premium prices due to the appeal of its overall ecosystem. However, Amazon may have found a chink in Apple’s tablet armor with the debut of a device aimed specifically at children. The bad publicity that Apple received over the millions of dollars in unauthorized in-app purchases that children made and the subsequent settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission may still be fresh in some consumers’ minds.
In this sense, Amazon’s two Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition tablets may be the company’s best play against Apple’s tablet market dominance. However, the kid-friendly extras also come with an extra cost. The 6-inch version costs $149 and the 7-inch version costs $189. On the other hand, this is still cheaper than Apple’s older iPad mini, which starts at $299.
Kindle Voyage and Kindle
Among its slew of new tablets, Amazon also unveiled two new e-readers: the premium Kindle Voyage and the low-cost Kindle. At $199, the Kindle Voyage is just the latest version of Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite, but with several impressive upgrades. Like Amazon’s other e-readers, the Kindle Voyage features an e-ink Paperwhite screen that is meant to emulate the appearance of real paper. The latest device even feels a little like real paper thanks to the micro-etching on the glass cover that is intended to reduce glare. Amazon also introduced a new method for turning pages with a haptic feedback technology called PagePress. A reader can turn the page in by simply pressing their thumb on the bezel, which vibrates in order to let the user know that the page has been turned.
Amazon also boosted the brightness of the screen by 39 percent and added an adaptive light technology that will slowly adjust the screen’s brightness based on the ambient light setting. Finally, Amazon threw in a free 3G connection for some versions of the Kindle Voyage, which should alleviate any concerns that users have about being able to find a Wi-Fi hotspot on the go. However, the 3G version starts at $269 with sponsored advertisements, or $289 without advertisements. Both seem like costly options considering that a few more dollars could buy a fully functional tablet.
Besides refreshing its flagship e-reader, Amazon also unveiled a new low-cost model that is simply called “Kindle.” At $79, the new Kindle includes a 20 percent faster processor, an e-ink touchscreen, and twice the storage. The price of the last-generation Kindle Paperwhite was dropped to $119 and was similarly upgraded with twice the storage. All three of the devices feature battery life that is measured in weeks, instead of days, thanks to its low-energy e-ink displays.
While the e-reader market is much smaller and less valuable than the overall tablet market, Amazon has consistently dominated this segment, along with the associated e-books market. However, it is likely that e-readers will eventually be completely subsumed by the overall tablet market. In this sense, the biggest competitors to Amazon’s Kindle Voyage and Kindle will be anyone who uses a full-fledged tablet to read e-books rather than one of Amazon’s dedicated e-readers.
It should be noted that the worldwide tablet market is still dominated by Apple, a company that has traditionally taken the opposite of the shotgun approach that Amazon is now taking. Apple — which held a 26.9 percent share of the global tablet market in the second quarter of 2014, according to IDC — typically debuts just two different tablets at a time, a 9.7-inch model and a 7.9-inch model. However, as noted by the IDC, most of the growth in the tablet market is now coming from low-cost device makers that may be unfamiliar to many American consumers. For this reason, Amazon’s latest devices may appeal to consumers who want a recognizable brand along with a low price and high technical specifications. All of Amazon’s new devices are currently available for pre-order and are scheduled to ship in October, around the same time that many industry watchers expect Apple to unveil its latest iPad models.
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