By John Biggs
A number of prominent folks have been ripping into the Kindle Fire lately, claiming that it is slow, exhibits poor UX choices, and that consumers are returning them en masse. Heck, even the affable Marco Arment writes “If I didn’t need the Fire for Instapaper testing, I’d return it.”
But there’s another narrative that says this is a secret success. Analysts estimate that Amazon (AMZN) will sell 5 million of the devices this quarter, a little under half the iPads sold in Q4 2011 (although the Fire has been on sale for a shorter period). I have a feeling that Amazon will hit or just graze this mark once it tallies holiday sales but, Amazon being Amazon, they’ll never announce total sales. Marco Arment or no Marco Arment, the Fire will do just fine.
The Kindle Fire is Amazon’s Trojan Horse. It’s made for the mass of men and women who have been looking into this whole tablet business and like what they see. But it is, first and foremost, a reading device and to fault it for not playing Angry Birds well or offering a sub-par Netflix (NFLX) experience is to ignore its primary goal: to inject the concept of Amazon content downloads into a consumer base that is increasingly inundated with video, audio, and ebook sources.
The Kindle Fire isn’t for the Marco Arment’s of the world. It’s for the folks who have priced the competition – the $529 Xyboard, the $499 iPad – and refused to take the plunge. Aside from a few mid-range sources (Vizio comes to mind, as does Viewsonic) there has been little support for the lower end by major manufacturers. When Amazon put their might behind something that may, at best, be frustrating to power users, the general consumer will scoop it up. In short, Kindle Fire, like the Nook Color before it, was the tablet I was waiting to buy for my mom.
The Kindle Fire clearly has some issues. The power button is horrible, for example. However, if you stay in Amazon’s walled garden of books and content, straying only occasionally to download a game or app, your experience is going to be more than acceptable. What frustrates the Android and iPad power user is the sense that the Fire should be so much better. It can’t and won’t be. Amazon isn’t selling to the power user. In a tech market obsessed with Tegra chips and Ice Cream Sandwich, the Fire is a device alone, designed from the ground up to be Amazon incarnate, from now unto eternity. Honeycomb? They don’t need no stinking Honeycomb.
In the end Amazon will cry all way to the bank as the Fire sells out over the holiday and is updated next year to faster and potentially slimmer hardware. It’s hard to accept, but Amazon doesn’t need the hardware geeks salivating over its specs. All it needs to do is serve up copies of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest.