The Amazon/Kindle Tablet: Speculating on Speculation

There’s a strong possibility that I will regret this statement later, but: I don’t think the Amazon Tablet, as rumored, is going to sell very well — even with “Amazon front page Help”.

Marco Arment argues that the Amazon Tablet will put battery life first, then price. Meaning it will be a crappy feeling product that is thicker than an iPad and will just be a price competitor. That sounds… fantastic.

Dan Provost on the other hand is arguing that the Amazon Tablet should be something very special using some of the latest technology to make the ultimate tablet reading device. Likely this means tossing aside pricing and focusing on great hardware and software — I am not alone in saying Provost’s idea would be very compelling.

Both of these men are just speculating, but as far as speculation goes — I have real doubts about the market success of either product.

No matter what homepage you put either of these devices on — they are both doomed for failure as they have been outlined by Arment and Provost.

The Marco Tablet

Arment theorizes that such a tablet would feel cheap, but because it is cheap it would sell like crazy:

Like the Kindle 3, it’s going to feel cheap, but most people won’t care, because it will be cheap.

Arment notes that with the exposure that Amazon would be giving it sales will be good (to say the least). I however don’t think that is the case — it certainly would sell more than any other iPad tablet we have seen thus far, but it won’t be a true iPad competitor. 1

To understand why we need to understand what makes the iPad phenomenal from a users perspective: value. The iPad is not expensive — it isn’t cheap — ask anyone who has fallen in love with their iPad (shouldn’t be hard to find) and they will tell you the same thing when you ask them if the price is “worth it”: absolutely.

In fact even users that are not as enamored with the device will tell you that they think the pricing is pretty damned good for what you get. For what you get. That is what defines value for the consumer that actually waits in line — the consumers that only Apple has.

So the iPad has:

  • Excellent quality and feeling hardware.
  • Fluid and seamless feeling OS.
  • Thousands of quality and free apps.
  • Excellent user experience.
  • A price that is “worth” it.

The Amazon tablet as Arment sees it will have only the last item on the list — that’s not a device that is a competitor to anything — that’s slapping a Ferrari logo on a Kia. Even at that it is not a sure bet that such a rumored Amazon tablet would even meet that last item of “worth” — after all even if a tablet is only $99, doesn’t meant that it is “worth” $99. 2

Amazon will ship a boatload at the beginning to people that want to try the device, but those people will soon report back that you are better off biting the bullet: buying an iPad.

In the iPad market you simply cannot compete on price alone.

The Provost Tablet

While I would be lining up to get an Amazon Tablet as Provost outlines it — the line would be pretty short. The hardware needed to create such a tablet would be very expensive for Amazon and therefore it would make the Tablet very expensive for consumers. 3 The Kindle has already taught us that Amazon is not willing to sell a device at much of a loss — even if it would result in higher “content” sales — instead preferring ad supported models.

With Provost’s idea we get:

  • Excellent hardware.
  • High price.
  • Poor user experience.
  • Limited tablet functionality.

In other words the only bullet point Provost’s idea would be competing on is hardware.

You can’t beat the iPad with hardware alone.

Now I need to address the user experience for both Arment’s vision and Provost’s vision since I categorically claim that they will both be “poor”.

The Arment Tablet UX

The problem with the Arment Tablet user experience is two fold:

  1. The Android base OS that Arment theorizes will be apart of said tablet has already proven to be a pretty poor base OS for tablets. Case in point: Nook, Xoom, Galaxy Tab 10.1, et al. None of these devices are great. The one thing they all have in common? Android.
  2. Cheap hardware. By all accounts the HP TouchPad had some pretty nice hardware accompanying it, but even at HP, the developers saw that their OS ran better inside of Safari — on an iPad. So coupling cheaper hardware than what most manufacturers are using with Android is simply not a recipe for a smooth operating — well — system. In other words: Android already struggles to properly animate scrolling and pinch-zoom gestures, now you want to give it even slower hardware? Not a good idea.

Having said all that there are three other majors issues with the Arment tablet speculation: core OS apps, weight, and the Amazon Appstore (one word because we wouldn’t want to be confusing it with another App Store).

Core OS Apps

The core OS apps are the apps that should be provided on any serious tablet from day one. Those apps include (at a minimum):

  • Web browser
  • Email client
  • Calendar
  • Maps
  • Music/media player
  • App Store, or someway of getting more apps.

Let’s take the above and look at them again, this time in the sense of what Amazon is actually good at:

  • Web browser: the only Amazon web browser I have experience with is the one “experimentally” built into my Kindle 2. That web browser is terrible. Let’s assume they go with Webkit for any new tablet and that the browser is at the very worst: poor. I have no doubt the they could make a decent browser with a Webkit backbone and a half way decent UI designer working on it. This is a ‘meh’ app for them — nothing terrible, nothing great. It’s not going to sell tablets, but it likely won’t hinder sales too much.
  • Email Client: they have absolutely no experience here. If Arment is right and Amazon doesn’t take this tablet through the Android compatibility process to get “open” Android on the device, well this will be a pain point for the tablet. I could however see them going with something Microsoft powered, but even then I doubt it would be even a good experience — no one uses Hotmail.
  • Calendar: Again they have no experience building this type of software, but I don’t see it being too troublesome for Amazon. Another ‘meh’ here.
  • Maps: This would be a disaster if Amazon tried to build it themselves. Luckily I see their neighbor Microsoft willing to pitch in — which could actually result in a pretty good offering. If for no other reason than Microsoft wanting to show other OEMs that Bing mapping is a viable alternative to Google Maps.
  • Music/Media: Amazon cloud drive. Let’s just say this won’t be a strong selling point of the device, but it would have the magic “cloud” phrasing to go along with it. Where it would really shine is allowing people to stream a ton of video — that would really take the competition up a notch.
  • App Store: Appstore. The problem? Developers hate the Amazon Appstore and for good reason. More on this later.

Amazon’s inexperience in OS level software and lack of viable partners is what will really kill them with a Tablet offering. Amazon needs to ask themselves: do we really want to become a software company? If the answer is no, then the Tablet needs to pass the Android compatibility suite. Otherwise Amazon is going to need to make a serious commitment too software design and development to even compete with fellow Android tablets.

Weight

Arment speculates that the Amazon tablet will be thicker than most tablets, thus accommodating a higher capacity battery. If this is true then we can naturally expect the weight of the device to be much heavier than an iPad.

People already complain that the iPad is too heavy for general reading purposes — this is Amazon’s bread and butter. Making a tablet that is heavier than the iPad? That’s not a good idea, even if the battery life is significantly better.

People like the Kindle (in part) because it is light and won’t break their nose if they drop it on their face while reading in bed.

Amazon Appstore

As I mentioned above the Amazon Appstore has already begun pissing off developers. The bigger problem is: will good developer flock to the platform?

Without the subset of key apps, or even knock-off apps, no user will take such an App Store seriously. The current best selling listing for the Amazon Appstore is less then hopeful for the platform.

The Provost Tablet UX

The reasoning for stating that Provost’s tablet concept would have a poor user experience (right now at least) is much simpler and clearly stated by Arment himself:

I don’t think color e-ink is product-ready yet. Even if it could match the resolution and response time of today’s grayscale e-ink displays, that’s still nowhere near good enough to play video, animate anything, or smoothly scroll a page. I doubt that color (or probably even grayscale) e-ink will ever be fast enough for those roles.

In other words: lag. Too much lag. Provost’s speculation also ditches a web browser — leaving me to wonder if you could even put such a tablet in the same category as the iPad.

The Amazon Tablet

This entire post is speculation on speculation. The point of it is to really say: that Amazon must do more than people are speculating to stand a chance at beating the iPad, or changing the rules of the game.

Right now, where rumors and speculation currently stand, I don’t see Amazon doing much more that becoming another me-too tablet manufacturer competing for the crumbs the iPad leaves behind.

  1. Maybe that is the point.
  2. Cough. TouchPad. Cough.
  3. Based solely on the idea that: A: Provost wants high quality hardware. B: Color eInk isn’t cheap.
Originally posted for members on: August 29, 2011
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