Will the Kindle Fire threaten to burn the iPad?

Amazon's latest product is far more like an iPad than any Kindle before. But will it be enough--and what will it take--to shake up Apple's tablet reign?

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
3 min read
The Kindle Fire: beating Apple at its own game, or a different tablet entirely?
The Kindle Fire: beating Apple at its own game, or a different tablet entirely? Sarah Tew/CNET

Here's the holiday question everyone will be asking: now that Amazon has an Android tablet that can play movies, games, music, and color e-books for less than half the price of an iPad, is Apple's tablet in danger this holiday season?

In short: no, not yet--at least, that's my opinion.

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However, I would expect Amazon's super-Kindle to be one of the most compelling tablet purchases next to Apple's own iPad, and the reason has to do with comfort. Here's why.

Brand recognition
Amazon has a big thing going for it with the public's identification with the Kindle. However, Apple's iPhone/iPad recognition is even bigger. Amazon's branding alone will comfort the tablet-apprehensive and lead more people to consider color tablets as e-readers.

This is obvious, but the Kindle Fire's barn-burning price of $199 is $300 less than an entry-level iPad, which could be a huge factor for cash-pressed shoppers--or any shopper, really. We don't know the full extent of what the Fire can do, yet, but its apps, games, media playback, and portability could offer up more than enough value for the dollar for many.

Changing the definition of tablet
Amazon will likely continue what Barnes and Noble started with the Nook Color: labeling tablets as evolved e-readers rather than laptop alternatives. It's a fine point, but $199 is more of a gadget impulse buy than the computer-level $499 start price of an iPad. If Amazon's Fire succeeds, then in a year or two we may be defining tablets in terms of a different price expectation.

However...keep in mind these considerations, too, which still play in Apple's favor.

7 inches is not 10 inches
Apple's iPad has one chief difference over the iPod Touch: screen size. We mocked the original iPad for just being a big Touch, but screen size does indeed matter. Seven inches is a very comfortable pocket reader size, but it won't satisfy people who use tablets for more than reading or watching movies.

Hooking you with content you already own
Amazon already has, smartly, developed a cloud music player, MP3 store, video-streaming service, Android app marketplace, and e-book cloud service all in advance of its tablet. Many people already own dozens of Kindle books, and most Amazon Prime customers probably don't realize that thousands of free-to-stream movies and TV shows are already available to them on Amazon VOD. Others have experimented with Amazon's generous initial offering of cloud storage space for their music. Their tablet offers content people can have from day one, with no extra purchasing required. However, Apple's App Store and iTunes offer the same comfort for iPhone/iPod users who want to use their content on the iPad.

Apple's products are pinnacles of current design, and are extremely tough to beat. Amazon's Kindles have a more utilitarian look. Some people (in fact, many) don't mind, especially when price and durability come to mind, but will a tablet product be viewed the same way? The Fire's design isn't unattractive, but it's not quite as elegant as an iPad.

A small point: the Kindle Fire won't support video chat, and it doesn't appear to have a microphone. The iPad has Skype and Facetime. Will that matter? Maybe not.

Apps are king
More than music, movies, or books, the iPad's real claim to fame is its astounding assortment of apps and games. Amazon's Fire can't compete here, or at least it'll take some time to catch up. The Android app library is certainly far better than a Blackberry Playbook's, but there's little chance people will pick Amazon's tablet for its app library. Then again, if the Fire has enough casual games like Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds, will anyone really care if it doesn't have an Infinity Blade?

What do you think? Sound off below. Will you buy one? If so, what product is the Kindle Fire really threatening--the iPad, or similar-priced products like the Nook Color and even the iPod Touch?