Kindle Fire

Earlier reports of the device now known as the Kindle Fire have varied wildly and with speculation rampant about what Amazon might announce the finished product appears to fall nicely in between the greatest device ever and a serious disappointment. We'll begin with pricing. Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, repeated one line more than any other during the event today, "premium products at non-premium prices." By pegging the Fire at $199 he certainly is following through on the latter claim. This undercuts even the Barnes and Noble Nook Color, while providing specifications that match devices more than twice it's price. So, bargain? You bet.

 

And what you get for that $199 is a stylish black device with a 7" IPS 1024 x 600 screen, and a 1 GHz dual-core ARM processor. At 11.4mm the Fire is thicker than other slates, but as we've discussed before, a thicker device can still be pleasant to hold, so long as the form factor works. Reports from gdgt's Ryan Block indicate that Quanta Computers, who designed the BlackBerry PlayBook, were responsible for the design of the Kindle Fire, and by all accounts they seem to have not strayed far from that design. Holding to that design may include using the same TI OMAP 4430 SoC, though we have yet to confirm that. What we can confirm is that at 413 grams, this is one of the lightest weight tablets we've seen. 

Tablet Specification Comparison
  Amazon Kindle Fire Apple iPad 2 BlackBerry PlayBook Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9
Dimensions 190 x 120 x 11.4mm 241.2 x 185.7 x 8.8mm 194 x 130 x 10mm 230.9 x 157.8 x 8.6mm
Display 7-inch 1024 x 600 IPS 9.7-inch 1024 x 768 IPS 7-inch 1024 x 600 8.9-inch 1280 x 800 PLS
Weight 413g 601g 425g 447g
Processor 1GHz TI OMAP 4430 (2 x Cortex A9) 1GHz Apple A5 (2 x Cortex A9) 1GHz TI OMAP 4430 (2 x Cortex A9) 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 (2 x Cortex A9)
Memory ? 512MB 1GB 1GB
Storage 8GB 16GB 16GB 16GB
Pricing $199 $499 $499 $469

Hardware isn't the whole store with the Fire, though. Amazon is selling a platform from which to experience it's various Amazon services, and it is leaving none of them from this party. Obviously, and this is the last mention of Android you'll find in this piece and their PR. For third party apps there's the Amazon Appstore. This will be the only official means by which buyers will be able to load their apps onto the device, though intrepid hackers will no doubt make quick work of the device. Amazon's MP3 store is on hand as well as Amazon's Kindle app and e-book store. This brings us up to apps, music, magazines and books. The addition of Amazon Prime Instant Videos rounds out the offerings with over 100,000 movies and TV shows from the likes of Fox, CBS and NBCUniversal. Buyers will be treated with an expanded WhisperSync service that now allows users to mark their place in movies and TV shows, as they already do with books and magazines. Amazon is even leveraging EC2, their web services provider to enhance the browsing experience with Amazon Silk.

Amazon Silk Browser

 
The Kindle Fire is the first device to ship with Amazon's Silk browser. According to Amazon, Silk is a split-browser that leverages the company's EC2 cloud. The idea is simple: rather than simply going out and maintaining connections with all of the various servers that supply content for a single web page, Amazon will deliver as much of that as possible via its own cloud. The benefit of delivering content via Amazon's cloud is it minimizes the number of independent DNS lookups and handshakes the browser has to perform to load a single webpage, not to mention that Amazon's cloud should hopefully deliver more consistent performance due to the scale of its deployment.
 
Amazon is also doing some prediction in Silk. As Amazon's EC2 cloud aggregates usage data from Silk users, it can develop models for web page access patterns. The browser is then capable of prefetching what it thinks will be the next web page you click on based on historical data from a number of other users. I've always thought browser prefetching makes a lot of sense and it appears that Amazon is going to try to do some of that here with Silk.
 
 
Amazon's cloud can also deliver size optimized content depending on the device you're using. The example Amazon gives is a 3MB jpg that can be compressed to 50KB without you being able to tell the difference on a Kindle Fire. Silk will work with EC2 to determine the appropriate size of the image that it should send down to you. 
 
Given that the Kindle Fire is WiFi only, I wonder how much of an impact Silk's network optimizations are really going to have on the overall experience - particularly on fast WiFi connections. Web browsing on mobile devices is still largely CPU bound and with the Kindle Fire shipping with (presumably) the same CPU power as a number of other Android tablets that bottleneck shouldn't really change because of Silk.
 
We also don't know anything about Silk's underlying parsing and rendering engines. As Google has shown us, web page rendering performance depends just as much on software as it does hardware. Amazon is addressing the network part of the problem with Silk but there are also CPU and software issues that are either unchanged or big unknowns at this point.
A $79 Kindle! And Wrap-up
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  • quiksilvr - Wednesday, September 28, 2011 - link

    *Starts digging grave*

    Seriously, how can they compete with this now?
    Reply
  • lurker22 - Wednesday, September 28, 2011 - link

    Well, lower their price as a starter... Reply
  • Spazweasel - Wednesday, September 28, 2011 - link

    "We're losing money with each unit, but we'll make up for it with volume."

    Most phones and pads, when you take into account the need to recover R&D costs (which can run into the hundreds of millions, or even billions of dollars), are selling with almost no margin or profit. The sellers are depending upon their portion of the app/book/media sales through their so-called "walled gardens" to sustain the business. But if nobody buys content through the producer's store... if everything is sideloaded or pirated... there is no profit to be made, and so the company stops making the phone/pad.

    I would be very surprised if Amazon will make even a single penny on the Fire hardware sales.
    Reply
  • Spazweasel - Wednesday, September 28, 2011 - link

    Stupid no-edit.

    B&N is in worse shape financially than Amazon; they can't afford to have a Playbook Moment. They could sink a lot of money into subsidizing the Nook by selling below-cost, and it's a huge risk. Amazon can afford that; I don't think B&N can.
    Reply
  • SilthDraeth - Wednesday, September 28, 2011 - link

    Your assessment is a good one. However, I don't really believe Amazon is expecting people to buy to much media with these devices. Sure they want you to consume media. But ultimately, the device will lead to more overall sales of products through Amazon directly.

    As it is, when I am in a store, I look up the product on Amazon, to read user reviews, and check prices. If reviews are bad, I look for an alternative that gets good reviews. Check prices in store, if the product is available.

    9 times out of 10, Amazon is the better deal.

    I think getting more of these tablets into hands of consumers will grow their business even more.
    Reply
  • Zoomer - Sunday, October 02, 2011 - link

    You just have to remember that it's wifi only. Reply
  • DanD85 - Wednesday, September 28, 2011 - link

    Your argument of "millions, or even billions of dollars R&D costs" hold no ground! Why? Because the Fire is just a product from an ODM, Amazon only buy from that ODM and with their buying power I don't believe they have to sustain any hardware loss on this.

    Secondly, with the release of the Xiaomi phone with the roughly the same performance with the galaxy tab 2 but half the price prove that WE, the consumer simply "believe" the cost of the product is what the manufacturer say without knowing anything better.
    Reply
  • Guspaz - Wednesday, September 28, 2011 - link

    Sure, but Amazon is the first tablet vendor other than Apple with a comprehensive set of first-party services behind it. They've got their appstore, their music store, their TV and movie services, their book store, their cloud syncing, all of it. None of the other tablet offerings have that all as first-party services under the same roof except Apple. Reply
  • JasonInofuentes - Wednesday, September 28, 2011 - link

    I would be surprised if Quanta would sell for much less than $200, certainly not enough for Amazon to have any appreciable margin on the Fire. Xiaomi is an interesting case of an Asian company using its home team advantage to bring costs down considerably. But it probably doesn't have the margins that Samsung has, let alone Apple. The key is what the market will pay for a device. Apple as mastered the art of finding a price point and owning it. The iPad is obviously a good example of this, but consider too the MacBook Pro 15. Most people would have trouble paying $1500 for a 15" Windows laptop, because decent models can be had for half that. Yet MBP15 sales have been rock solid for years. $750 is about what a person will consider spending on a Windows laptop, but $1500 is easily considered for a Mac.
    But no one is immune from price disruptions. And if the Fire does rise to the top of the Android heap, it may be enough to shake down Apple's pricing.
    Reply
  • geedavey - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    I read yesterday that the $199 Fire costs $209 to make. Reply

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