Jason Hiner recently engaged in a debate that pitted the Kindle Fire with the iPad. In his post, he said:
"Still, the ____________ is not the tablet for technologists or business professionals. It is the tablet for your grandma, Uncle Ted, or your 12 year old. It's good at two things - consuming content from A_____ (books, videos, and music) and purchasing products from A_____. "
Fill in the blanks however you want, and in either case, it works. Both the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Apple iPad are functionally crippled devices that keep users safely playing inside a gated and well-monitored playground. Both set limits on the scope of what the device can do, as much for the economic benefit of the manufacturer as for the experience of the end user.
Is the Kindle Fire selling at a loss? Probably — at least for now. Amazon can afford to do this, because selling the device isn't where they're going to make money. Apple, on the other hand, could employ the same loss-leader tactics, but Apple users are willing to pay a premium in order to be locked into a walled garden that limits their experience significantly. So, why wouldn't Apple shake down their users when those users actually seem to enjoy it?What other arguments are going to come to the table? The Amazon AppStore is almost as robust as and frequently out-competes the Android Market on price in an apples-to-apples, head-to-head comparison. Beyond that, nobody cares anymore about the difference in numbers between the Android Market and the Apple App Store, because all of the important titles are in both marketplaces. Android delivers most of the significant apps (with a few notable exceptions) as well. Apps don't matter, because the ones that do matter are available, one way or the other, regardless of your choice.
As for those apps that aren't available — because the Kindle Fire is Android-based, and because Amazon did not limit side-loading, you still have the basic freedom to open the gate and walk out of the safe playground if you want, no rooting or jail-breaking required. You're given the respect to use your device to the limits of its capabilities, as long as you're willing to live with the consequences (and benefits) of your actions.
Ultimately, for what the majority of Christmas shoppers are going to end up doing with a tablet, the Amazon Kindle Fire or the iPad 2 are functionally nearly identical and interchangeable, except that the Fire is $300 less. That seems to be a no-brainer to me. For only $100 more, I could buy three people Kindle Fires for Christmas. If I bought a SINGLE person an iPad 2 and "saved" $100, that user would probably do the same things as the three Kindle Fire recipients: light surfing, updating social media sites, watching Netflix, and playing Angry Birds.
Once you start arguing that the iPad 2 is better suited for more technical tasks — well, why wouldn't you just purchase a full-fledged Android tablet that still costs less than the iPad 2 and is better at that aspect, as well?
If you're interested in being a power user, you're not interested in fighting with iOS — rather, you're interested in being empowered with Android. That includes dealing with the warts, certainly. But the advantages that come with dealing with those warts are clearly superior for a true power user. That's why propeller heads like myself overwhelming prefer Android tablets to iOS devices, after all. Everyone points this out when trying to illustrate why Android tablets aren't ready for prime time and aren't suitable to mainstream users — users who primarily just want to consume content.
Prior to the arrival of the Kindle Fire - the powerhouse ASUS Transformer tablet/convertible was the 2nd best selling tablet and the #1 selling Android tablet. All of those power users who wanted a tablet but wouldn't settle for Apple's imposed limits opted for this device. The next generation will arrive before Christmas, and it will feature a quad-core CPU and an upgrade to the pending release of Ice Cream Sandwich. I can say from experience, the Transformer 1 was a competent replacement for a notebook, but it still had flaws. I suspect the Transformer 2 will go a long way toward addressing those issues. If you're going to focus on tablets that are notebook replacements, there are stronger and less expensive choices than an iPad 2.
The Kindle competes with the iPad on its home turf, and true Android tablets compete better at technical features, content creation, and flexibility as relatively powerful laptop replacements.
If the Kindle Fire is successful, there's no reason why we shouldn't see a Kindle Fire DX in the near future, priced a little more expensively, yet still below the iPad 2 or 3.
The only people who should be buying an iPad now are people who are blinded by the fruit logo on the back of the case. It leaves iOS devices in a kind of netherworld. iOS is not the best platform for content consumption as a value proposition. That title now belongs to the Kindle Fire. iOS is not the best platform for delivering a power user experience for content creation and file manipulation — Android Honeycomb is (and ICS promises to be even better).
Fortunately for Apple, I don't think there is any shortage of people who are willing to pay more for less as long as it has the Apple logo somewhere on it. Prestige matters, and the truth is that there's a tremendous base of consumers for whom the mediocrity of the iPad is an advantage. It's the middle of the road, like a passenger sedan or a mini-van that finds a conservative balance that makes it a run away success. The problem with being a Ford Taurus is that everyone else wants to make a Civic or Camry or Maxima to compete with you — and they all end up looking and acting pretty much the same. Welcome to the era of soccer mom computing devices.
Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his professional role is as a Linux support engineer for a fast-growing Linux/FOSS consultancy group. You can follow him @dcolbert on Twitter or his personal blog, located at http://donovancolbert.blogspot.com.