I’ve been meaning to write this post for about 4 months, and as is inevitably the case when you delay, someone else writes it for you. Today that was Ars Technica, so at least I’m in good company :)
I’ve started traveling more regularly for work, and at the start of this year I set myself a goal of reaching 26 books. That works out to roughly 20 pages a day, so I tend to need multiple books on a 2 week work trip. That’s a nonstarter for me, so I asked (begged) my wife for an Amazon Kindle for my birthday. She arranged it, a few friends chipped in, and I happily read books now in predominantly digital form. This week I read Call of Cthulhu, by HP Lovecraft. It was deranged and brilliant!
But this post isn’t about the Kindle, it’s what Amazon needs to follow up the Kindle with… and I can’t think of a better name for it, than the Ignite. This will be Amazon’s entry into the tablet market, and as others have started to point out, it offers the best hopes of competition against Apple. I’m not saying it will unseat the iPad… that’s an argument not worth making, but it could provide the best alternative to the iPad. As I mentioned, Ars have written about it, posting some research from Forrester. There’s a lot of weight gaining behind the theory that Amazon is the best positioned to offer a product like this, in terms of market clout, brand recognition, trust, ecosystem and so on. Amazon has rated in the past as the most trusted company in the United States, and it’s one today that has built a strong and growing portfolio. Many people will be unaware of anything people the “online book store”, but even that store today operates in local varieties all over the world, selling everything from books to music to computers.
Beneath that, lies Amazon Web Services. If you’re unfamiliar with Amazon Web Services, then you need to go and talk to just about any web start-up, and almost everyone else, to learn that “AWS is the internet.” Not quite, but almost. AWS is an absolutely game changer in the technology space, and is building up strong revenues for Amazon, and continuing to build incredible trust in the Amazon brand. This is all further cash in the bank for Amazon, which lets them take a gamble on a risky move into the tablet & PC space.
As Ars pointed out, Amazon are well positioned to take a loss on hardware sales for a tablet, which other manufacturers are not likely to want to do, and Apple refuses to do. Apple makes money hand-over-fist compared to other manufacturers, largely because they control the hardware chain. To come to Apple’s party, you’ve got to pay to play, and Amazon have the resources to do that. I also think they’re ballsy enough to do it too. Microsoft sunk (lost) a billion dollars into the first Xbox, but are reaping rewards now on the Xbox 360. Having secured a 1st or 2nd place in the market, depending on which area of the market you look at.
What Amazon needs to decide upon, is who to make their hardware, how to handle the screen, and what to do with the OS.
The Kindle hardware is lovely, simple, well formed and fits it’s purpose exactly. I would bet that Amazon can pull off a similarly well-done job for a tablet… but if they need a hardware partner (manufacturing process, design, supply chain), I suggest they look no further than Nokia. Nokia has proven they can make beautiful, durable hardware devices, and they own unbeatable brand recognition. Remember how Amazon had the most trust in the US? Well Nokia came out tops in the same study… in Hungary, and Italy, and Sweden, and Poland, and Russia, and Taiwan, and Thailand, and CHINA. Nokia also has a problem… their old software sucks (Symbian) and their new software (Windows Phone) is the wrong choice. Nokia needs a win, and by becoming Amazon’s hardware partner they could get that win.
The Kindle’s screen is absolutely boss. It is THE defining feature of the device, and it is one of the main reasons I have no interest in buying an iPad. The Kindle does what it needs to do perfectly, and the screen is the main enabler. Running on an e-ink display, power is only needed to change the content of the screen, not to keep it running. There’s no backlight, meaning it’s just like reading a book; there’s no light being projected unnaturally into your eyes. The low-power usage means I only have to charge it every couple of weeks. I regularly forget that it even needs charging at all… is that a fault? Amazon needs to capitalize on this success, but must bring colour and touch to the ball game. The obvious best-choice there is the Pixel Qi (pronounced Chi) as Ars pointed out. This bad boy can run as a “dead” e-ink screen or at the flip of a switch, change to glorious HD colour. Flipping a switch is lame, so Amazon will need to come up with a clever gesture or other method to manage this change. One of the main reasons I’m holding out on the iPad, is because it’s battery life sucks. It just does. Contrast “I charge my iPad daily” with “I forget that my Kindle is an electronic device”. Amazon, do the right thing, and make me forget my tablet is electronic.
In the tablet world, this will be deciding factor more than anything else. The assumption is that the device-which-should-be-called-the-Ignite will run Android, because it’s the next best bet. I’m on the fence on this one, but I can’t really see many great options for Amazon. The likelihood that they’ve been developing an amazing OS for the last 5 years in secret is fairly slim… but they could always pick up Web OS for a bargain. Android is probably the best bet in this case, but it remains to be seen if Amazon can polish it nicely. HTC have done a fantastic job with their polishing of Android… so if Amazon can take a page from their, and really make it their own, then it has a good chance to compete.
If Amazon enters at a low price point, with great battery life (reliant on a cunning screen), with a friendly, usable OS, then I think they’ll be off to the races.