To date, nobody’s been able to make a real dent in Apple’s near dominance of the tablet market, although plenty have tried. Apple and Samsung are, at the time of writing, locked in a fairly brutal court battle regarding Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1, but it’s a unit that’s most likely going to be priced near identically to the iPad 2. At that price point, it’s a tough sell to the average consumer.
Amazon’s recently announced Kindle Fire, however, takes things in an interesting new direction. It’s a 7″ Android Tablet with much the same hardware as Blackberry’s Playbook, which means that while it’s not absolutely cutting edge in terms of specifications, it’s still pretty handy in terms of basic processing. Amazon’s made two key decisions with the Fire that make it stand out from the somewhat bland Android pack.
For a start, you won’t automatically realise that it’s running Android, because unlike every other Android 3 (“Honeycomb”) tablet, the Fire isn’t running Honeycomb at all. Instead, it’s based off the older smartphone 2.1 version of Android, but completely reskinned such that it doesn’t look like anybody else’s Android at all. Amazon’s including tight integration with its online ventures including books, video and app stores, which sadly means that when the Fire launches in mid-November, it’ll be US-only for now. Having said that, Amazon’s only just launched the Kindle into the local Australian market at a retail level; the model that’s now known as the “Kindle Keyboard” is being sold on store shelves in Woolworths, Dick Smith and Big W, so there’s hope that we’ll see the Fire locally sooner rather than later.
The real hook with the Fire isn’t the specifications or the integration with Amazon’s web services, although they’re a great point of differentiation in their own right. Instead, it’s the asking price, which is $US199. The Australian dollar has only just slipped under parity with the US dollar, and there’s always GST to tack on to any purchase, so that could well become, say, $250 by the time it does hit our stores. Still, $250 for a tablet with these specifications is an absolute steal. The closest we’ve come to that kind of pricing on a brand-name tablet to date has been HP’s TouchPad, but that was a case of the company selling off the remaining stock in a (pun not intended) fire sale. The Fire’s low entry price makes it a compelling option for content consumption, which is still the single best reason to buy a tablet of any stripe, and if Amazon can get it to Aussie consumers sooner rather than later it could well have a real iPad competitor on its hands.