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Kindle Fire’s media focus sets it up for success

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One secret to success I was reminded of recently goes something like this: Set expectations and then make sure you exceed them, even by a little. That’s what Apple (s aapl) has done with the iPad, which is the king of the tablet market because it gives people what they want and more at a reasonable price point. And that’s why the host of tablet competitors have fallen down, because they basically can’t prove their value to users.

It’s through this lens that the Amazon Kindle Fire (s amzn) looks like a big seller in waiting. It’s a straightforward tablet that doesn’t try to outdo the iPad; it’s got simpler ambitions with pricing to match. I got a chance to see the device up close in controlled demos and though it was brief, it felt like a polished product that should exceed what people expect out of a tablet at that price. (See a video demo at the bottom of this post.) The device doesn’t look like any Android (s goog) tablet, and for all intents and purposes, it really isn’t. It’s largely Amazon’s creation built off of the Android base, and it comes off looking really good.

The presentation is simple, inviting and intuitive, and what you get for $199 is impressive. The screen looks great and has wide viewing angles with its IPS display, though there is some glare to deal with. The body itself looks similar to the BlackBerry Playbook (s rimm), but remember, RIM’s device started at $499 and just recently started getting price cuts down to $299. Amazon is no doubt subsidizing the price with the anticipation of making it up on sales of digital media.

And in that regard, the tablet is a great showcase. It’s pretty snappy and seems purpose-driven to get you into media. Users are greeted by a book shelf that offers search up top and then options for newsstand, books, music, videos, docs and apps. The carousel below is familiar to people who’ve seen Apple’s Cover Flow, but it nonetheless feels polished and shows you the content you’ve most recently interacted with. The bottom shelves will be where users pin their favorites for quick access. There’s no physical button on the front and all the actions are controlled through on-screen gestures like tapping the top to pull up a menu or swiping up from the bottom to reveal functions like a back button, search and the home screen icon.

Videos look very nice on the screen, and books maintain the familiar Kindle feel though with a back-lit display. The apps, at least the ones I saw so far, look and play well. The music player is clean and can run in the background. And tabbed browsing is very quick, thanks to Amazon’s Silk Browser, which works in the cloud to optimize delivery.

There are moments when the Kindle Fire stutters for a second and the screen appeared to be not as instantly responsive like the iPad. And it doesn’t offer a fuller computing experience. For example, there’s no calendar or mapping tool. We weren’t able to see what the email application is like, though I’m told it doesn’t have support for corporate accounts. There’s no camera, GPS or microphone. And it’s limited to whatever Android apps are submitted to Amazon’s Appstore, which is above 15,000 apps. Some of these will not run on the Kindle Fire because they engage hardware features that the Fire doesn’t have. We also didn’t get to actually test the device out personally, so we’ll have to see if the performance holds up under heavier scrutiny.

Amazon said they’re making and expect to sell many millions of devices. I think that’s totally possible, if the company stays focused on managing expectations and delivering a great media experience while quashing any initial talk of taking on the iPad. More than the army of Android tablets, the RIM Playbook or even the Barnes & Noble Nook Color (s bks), the Kindle Fire seems like the best deal around. It’s not trying to be an all-purpose tablet, but instead has a clear goal and a price that fits. After all, at $199, with all media assets Amazon brings to the table, it’s easy to justify taking a chance on the Kindle Fire.

5 Responses to “Kindle Fire’s media focus sets it up for success”

  1. I have to disagree that the Fire is a better value than the Nook Color. Though I obviously haven’t had a chance to try out the Fire, in many ways it looks like a knock off of the Nook. The specs are pretty much the same. But with the Color takes an SD – for $30 bucks or so you can buy one that turns it into a full Android tablet (or you can make one yourself.) You have the Android Market for apps, can put both both the Nook app and the Kindle App on it. Then add Netflix, etc. etc. And yuo have your choice of booting it up to either the original Nook interface or Android at your pleasure

    It really doe not make make a lot of sense to compare either one to an IPAD. Different animals, and way different price points.

  2. No one, absolutely no one should order a first-generation product such as this without seeing in person first!

    And without reading hands-on reviews.

    Too many things can go wrong with an initial product release… and this is the first time Amazon has tried something this ambitious–and with a new display technology.

    I also think that people will be surprised at how little it is when they see it in person and hold it in their hands. For some, that will be a winning feature; for others, many others, an absolute deal breaker.

  3. Great review of a virtual product! Thanks for the details.

    Has anyone figure out whether the ebook reading app will be the regular Kindle app that is on the iPhone and iPad?

    Or, will they, hopefully, finally borrow from Stanza and make a real ebook reading app?!