Sep. 28, 2011 at 6:12 PM ET
Once the news of the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet settled in, the top question on everyone's mind seemed to be, "How does this compete with the iPad?" While Amazon's initial target is clearly the similarly priced, similarly equipped Barnes & Noble Nook Color, it's true that at some point the Fire and the iPad will have to cross swords, Highlander-style.
I said a little bit ago that a substantially more affordable Kindle e-ink reader would clearly differentiate it from the iPad. Black-and-white reading-only Kindles were too expensive, and now they're priced right, starting-at-$79 right, well below of the range of any Apple products. But this Kindle Fire blurs the lines in a weird way. A $300 difference should mean major differences in functionality, right? It's true, but for some people, the differences won't matter.
What I mean is, at $199 for the Fire, many tech-savvy shoppers won't expect iPad functionality. Don't let the screen-size numbers fool you, a 7-inch tablet has half the screen real estate of Apple's 10-incher. There's little onboard memory, there are fewer, if any, creative or business apps, there's no camera or microphone. So automatically anyone who chooses the iPad for its ability to create art or music, or manage spreadsheets, or edit photos, they just won't be looking at the Fire.
But the flipside is that, yeah, it's smaller, but that means it's better for sticking in a pocket, reading one-handed, watching movies in truer widescreen. So people who are shopping for an iPad because it's a great way to watch movies and read books (thanks in part to the iPad's excellent Kindle app), these people might want to save $300 and buy a Kindle Fire instead.
But the advent of a hot-selling cheaper Amazon tablet isn't likely to slow the growth of the iPad, which continues to have its own charm, not least of all being a key part of the Apple ecosystem. What it does do is convince people to ignore all of those other tablets that have sprung up since the iPad's launch.
As I said, Kindle Fire's real target is the Nook Color, which is, by most guesstimation, secretly the best-selling Android tablet of all time. It's not a full-blooded Android. Like the Kindle Fire, it uses a customized version of the OS streamlined for media consumption and ease of use. It costs $250, which used to be the best value in the tablet world, but may be the second best, once we evaluate the Kindle Fire. Barnes & Noble is said to be planning the Nook Color 2 launch soon, and it's likely to be an improvement along the lines of the Kindle Fire. But the Fire serves as a reminder to would-be Barnes & Noble shoppers that Amazon is good at books, but it isn't just books. If you want music, movies and TV shows, there isn't a lot B&N can do for you. At least as far as we've seen.
And other category that may end up being roadkill when the Kindle Fire truck picks up speed is the pure Android tablet. Google-backed tablets meant to rival the iPad have been overpriced, lacking in performance, and all but ignored by third-party software developers, the same people for whom the iPad is a wonderland. Amazon will go straight to those developers looking for games and media-rich apps to enhance their Kindle Fire offering. Amazon may prove better than Google at revving up Android development, but it will serve Amazon more than it will serve the rest of Android.
So don't cry for the iPad, not yet at least. If the Kindle Fire lives up to initial impressions, both of these tablets will be winners. At least for now.
More Kindle Fire stories on msnbc.com: