Amazon kicked off the battle to challenge the iPad’s grip on the tablet market with the release of its new Kindle Fire this week. And the online retailer did it by targeting Apple where it hurts: The wallet.
Amazon.com Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos slowly built up his presentation of the device at an unveiling event in New York. He first surveyed the features and appearance of the tablet — which Amazon will release on November 15 — before culminating with the price.
“So, how much is Kindle Fire going to cost? What’s the price of Kindle Fire? How affordable is Kindle Fire?” said Bezos, pausing between each question for emphasis. He then turned to the large projection screen behind him with the price shown in large lettering.
Those $199 buy access to hundreds of thousands of books, movies, television shows and periodicals, as well as apps and games. The Fire offers improved Whispersync technology, which allows users to close the book they were reading or the movie they were watching and resume at the same point on a different device, even a television. Users can store digital content for free in the Amazon Cloud, which is necessary given the Fire’s limited eight gigabytes of storage capacity.
Amazon appears to be betting that affordability will be the Fire’s biggest selling point. The price could be low enough to knock down the barriers keeping many college students from entering the tablet market.
If it can perform everything the iPad can, then I’d probably consider getting the Kindle
Apple’s iPad, which starts at $499, has dominated the field since its release. The electronics giant captured 68.3 percent of the market share in the second calendar quarter of 2011, according to International Data Corporation, which conducts market research. That figure exceeds its nearest competitor, Google’s Android-based tablets, by an overwhelming 40 percentage points.
Amazon owned a 51.7 percent share of the e-reader market during the same period and hopes to alter the tablet landscape with its low price.
College students represent an ideal target demographic to gauge the Fire’s potential impact. Students could use a tablet to surf the web, watch movies or read on the go, but often lack the cash to purchase one.
Virginia Tech sophomore Michael Gouhin, 19, already owns an older version of the Kindle, and said the device is perfect for a casual reader like himself. At $200, he views the Fire as a good deal, but the iPad may be out of his price range.
“(The iPad) would not be something I would purchase out of my own money,” said the Charleston, West Virginia native. “I would probably ask my parents to buy that or something.”
The money spent on an iPad does come with extra perks, though. The Fire doesn’t include a microphone or camera, and Apple still reigns supreme as far as apps are concerned. And although Amazon’s device offers its new Amazon Silk web browser, the device is wifi-only, with no 3G capabilities.
The small size of the Fire — just seven inches — makes it ideal for reading at school, according to Carolina Milanesi, vice president of research at Gartner, Inc., which conducts technology research. The size comes with tradeoffs, though. Some consumers may be turned off by the small display, despite the fact that the screen is made of highly durable plastic and displays 16 million colors.
“The price is certainly appealing and so are music, video and cloud services, but the hardware might not be for everyone,” Milanesi said.
The iPad will still likely be the top choice in tablets – if you can afford it. Thomas Reason, a 19 year old sophomore from Liverpool, England, who attends the University of Bloomsburg, received the iPad as a graduation gift. Reason said he uses the iPad for “almost everything,” and he has little reason to switch products.
Still, the price of the new Kindle makes it a legitimate future threat if Amazon is able to add more features.
“If it can perform everything the iPad can, then I’d probably consider getting the Kindle,” Reason said.
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