Will Amazon's new Kindles catch fire?
Based on Amazon's approach -- CEO Jeff Bezos made it clear today that the company's approach is to highlight services, rather than hardware (while also upgrading its hardware to very competitive levels) -- I think the company stands a good chance, despite facing some tough competition.
With the $69 Kindle and $119 Kindle Paperwhite, Amazon shows it still sees e-ink readers as key to its success, and that the company is prepared to undercut Barnes & Noble on pricing, while upping the ante on features and functionality. By all accounts, the Kindle Paperwhite outdoes Barnes & Noble's nook Simple Touch with Glowlight in terms of display quality, sharpness, brightness, and usability -- and it will sell for $20 less than the nook when it ships in October.
On the tablet front, Amazon may well give potential Nexus 7 buyers a reason to reconsider that purchase. The second-generation 7-inch Kindle Fire sells for just $159, which redefines the idea of a low-cost tablet. And the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD starts at $199, pitting it directly against the similarly priced Nexus 7. Anyone who wants a true Android experience will still opt for the Nexus 7. But for Amazon Prime customers, or mainstream users who just want an easy, content-optimized experience, the Fire HD seems like it will be an attractive, affordable option.
The 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD takes Amazon into new territory, and it's here that I think the company will face the most challenges. At $299, the Wi-Fi version of the 8.9-inch Fire HD may be cheaper than most 10-inch tablets, but it's still $100 more than the 7-inch version, and, other than its size, doesn't necessarily offer Amazon's core customers -- content-focused mainstream consumers -- a real reason to spend more. And at $499, the 4G version is priced on par with the latest iPad. True, you can't get a 4G iPad (or any other 4G tablet) for that price, but anyone willing to spend $499 for a 4G tablet is more likely to be the kind of technically savvy customer turned off by the Kindle's walled garden approach. However, Amazon has experimented with high-end Kindles before (remember the Kindle DX?), and I won't be surprised to see 4G trickle down into the next generation of less expensive Kindles, if the company sees enough demand for it.
I'm not about to rush out and buy a Fire or Fire HD just yet (I already have enough tablets, including a first-generation Fire). But the Paperwhite looks like a very tempting upgrade to replace my aging Kindle Keyboard.
What do you think?
Plus, I'm still a big believer in dedicated e-book readers. Even though text is remarkably crisp on the new iPad's Retina display, when it comes to reading a book I'll take a Kindle, Nook, or Kobo over a tablet any day. E-ink still does a better job of approximating paper than a backlit LCD, and because they are smaller and lighter, e-book readers are more comfortable to hold while reading, especially in bed. And while this may not be an issue for most people, I do find it easier to stay focused when reading on an e-ink Kindle or Nook; email, Twitter, and a whole host of other distractions are just a couple clicks away when I'm reading on a tablet.
Lastly, don't underestimate the selling power of the "Free Time" feature. I was following the liveblog of the keynote and loudly blurted out, "Damn, that's awesome," when I saw it. As a parent, I can assure you that other parents will buy Kindles for that feature alone.
All in all, I love the way Amazon is approaching this market. It's nice to see some new ideas in the tech world for a change. Whether they pull it off or not, at least it will be entertaining to watch them fight a war of ideologies with Apple. May the best idea win!
As for the tablets, Amazon's pricing strategy is fantastic - not only will it spur on competition, but the $159 price point is going to be huge in Amazon's attempt to get their products in everyone's hands.
Minus Jeff Bezos' summary of how WiFi works, I thought the press conference was very well done, and easily forsee Amazon making a huge amount of money off of these new products.