Kindle Fire details reveal no iPad competitor

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Credit: Amazon.com

Amazon’s Kindle Fire is now a known quantity, thanks to details supplied to Bloomberg ahead of the official announcement at Amazon’s press event Wednesday. The Android-based tablet has an attractive price, but to get there, it cut so many corners it probably won’t make much of a dent in Apple’s market lead with the iPad.

The Kindle Fire has a 7-inch display, no camera and no microphone. It can only connect to a Wi-Fi network, and there’s no built-in 3G connection. It also only carries 8 GB of on-board memory, with no options for memory expansion. These barebones features enabled Amazon to reach the Fire’s low price point of $199, while the Barnes & Noble Nook Color costs $249, and the iPad begins at $499.

Amazon’s goal with this device is clearly to offer something cheap that provides enough features and functionality to appeal to the general public. The company also hopes that Amazon’s ecosystem of digital goods can help it bring in customers; it provides video on demand, e-book and music sales, and it can store much of that content in the cloud.

The problem is that Amazon hasn’t really unveiled much with the Fire besides a fairly basic delivery method for sales of its digital offerings. Limited storage means Amazon’s cloud services are almost a necessity for buyers, and yet the lack of 3G means that accessing content when you’re away from home will be difficult. The lack of both camera and microphone also mean that people can’t easily use this for taking or sharing mobile photos, or as a phone replacement with VoIP apps.

The new Silk browser tech that does much of the processing work on Amazon’s EC2 servers is also interesting, but again severely limited by the Wi-Fi-only network access. Amazon also didn’t talk about battery life, and a decision not to talk about it could mean it doesn’t compare favorably to the iPad’s all-day power.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos talked a lot about early skepticism in the media about the original Kindle’s chances at success at today’s press conference — skepticism that didn’t end up coming true. But the Fire is entering a different market on different terms. Bezos also noted that Amazon has a strong ecosystem, and that’s been a large part of its success, but that alone won’t make sub-par hardware appealing. Especially considering that Amazon’s streaming media services are generally U.S.-centric.

A fresh coat of paint on Android will help set the Fire apart, but repackaging an OS that’s already struggling to match Apple’s in terms of tablet success, and then putting it on hardware that’s basically a stripped down PlayBook isn’t a recipe for an Kindle-iPad killer.

The Kindle Fire could admittedly do well; it’s a very portable device with a smart UI that provides access to an extensive ecosystem, and I fully expect it to give the Nook Color a run for its money, or even bury that device. But what it won’t do is knock the iPad off its pedestal, not when it feels like yet another Android tablet rushed to market in an attempt to stem the tide of users to Apple’s ecosystem.

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