Amazon draws line between Fire tablet and Kindle e-reader

Kindle name is dropped from Amazon's family of tablets to strengthen ties to the rest of its burgeoning hardware line.

Donna Tam Staff Writer / News
Donna Tam covers Amazon and other fun stuff for CNET News. She is a San Francisco native who enjoys feasting, merrymaking, checking her Gmail and reading her Kindle.
Donna Tam
3 min read

Amazon tries to tie its tablet with its Fire TV and Fire Phone. Sarah Tew/CNET

Amazon has quietly dropped the "Kindle" moniker from its line of tablets, now simply called Fire HD or Fire HDX.

The e-commerce company expanded its tablet line, along with its e-reader offerings, last week, but didn't draw attention to the change. A company spokeswoman confirmed the new names for the mobile devices, formerly called Kindle Fire tablets.

The rebranding highlights the division that Amazon wants to put between its more basic Kindle e-readers and its more advanced Fire tablets. It also further ties the tablet family to Amazon's Fire line of devices, which now includes the Fire TV and the Fire Phone. It's a bit of a head-scratcher considering that these devices are not as well-known as Amazon's e-readers. Still, it could serve as a window into what Amazon has in store for its devices in the future.

"Perhaps they are trying to make the tablets more relative to the phone, but to be honest I don't see why because it has not sold well," said IDC Analyst Ryan Reith.

Hardware has become increasingly important to Amazon. As an e-commerce site that sells both physical and digital products, Amazon has long had a focus on content with books and CDs, and later, e-books and digital music. But it's hardware that allows Amazon to stay with a person throughout the day and showcase its goods, giving its most loyal users easy access to purchases that contribute to Amazon's bottom line.

"We want to make money when people use our devices, not when they buy our devices," CEO Jeff Bezos said famously at a Kindle event in 2012.

Amazon's recent product announcement is indicative of its strategy to push smarter devices. It launched a single new e-reader, the Kindle Voyage , while also unveiling a refresh of its Fire HDX 8.9 and Fire HD 7 tablets, as well as a colorful $99 Fire HD 6 tablet. Further betting on the family-friendly nature of tablets, Amazon will also make the Fire HD 7 and 6 available in Kids Editions, which include a chunky case, a 2-year warranty, and a free year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, a subscription service focused on kid-friendly content such as apps, games and videos. The broader portfolio is part of Amazon's strategy to reach as many people as possible with its products.

Despite Amazon's continued push, the company has not been able to capture a large piece of the tablet market, with consumers drawn mostly to iPads and inexpensive tablets running Google's Android operating system. Amazon has had more luck with the Fire TV, which is currently the second most popular electronic device on its site, after Google's Chromecast media streaming stick.

The Fire Phone, however, is widely considered a flop (Amazon has not released information on how many have been sold). AT&T, the sole carrier for the Fire Phone, slashed the smartphone's price to 99 cents earlier this month.

Which is why it is puzzling that Amazon would more closely align its tablets -- which at least saw moderate success when the first Kindle Fire tablet launched in November 2011 -- with a struggling phone and burgeoning streaming video box, rather than the e-reader franchise that started the company on its hardware path.

Branding expert Rob Frankel said the company was probably hoping to help buoy the Fire Phone with the tablet's reputation and disassociate the device from the e-reader. Consumers most likely thought the Kindle only referred to the e-reader and not the tablet.

While Frankel can understand why Amazon would make a move like this, he said it's a mistake to attach the tablet to the Fire Phone, given its tepid reception.

"This is like taking one of your great failures, coming up with a new product and calling it failure version two," he said. "It's probably a giant step back for them because at least the Kindle has a good reputation."

Amazon chose the name Kindle because the word was suppose to evoke the feeling of warmth and the beginning of something, like how kindling starts a fire. By focusing on the Fire part and not the Kindle, it seems Amazon is hoping for a little more heat from its tablets.