As intriguing a device as the new, low-cost Kindle Fire tablet PC might be, for businesses the bottom line will not be about the Fire itself, but the software that runs on the Fire.
Jeff Bezos channeled his inner Steve Jobs today with a splashy, Apple-like media fest for his hot new, lower-cost iPad killer, the Kindle Fire tablet ($199). This 7-inch, Android-based touch-activated flat-panel PC is strictly middle of the road when it comes to business tablets. Smallish, not bad -- but not great -- screen, bland design husky 14.6 ounces in weight, no camera, slowish processor and an utterly commoditized Android OS experience. If history is any indication, all the hype over the half-the-cost-of-an-iPad $199 retail price probably poses no threat to Cupertino. Just ask Microsoft, Dell, HP, Toshiba, Viewsonic, and dozens of other low-cost hardware and software makers on how their cheaper-is-better strategy is working against Apple. The hardware “story” here is no story at all.
The news for business users is with a crafty bit of today’s announcement: Amazon said that the Fire will also support its own proprietary browser called Silk.
Silk, according to company executives, said it would be the world’s first “split” browser. That is, the Web information displayed on the Fire will be split between stuff stored on the tablet and stuff stored on Amazon’s vast back-end Web computer infrastructure. Amazon execs claim -- and there is legitimate networking science to back up these notions -- that this split approach will allow Amazon to move complex Web content faster and easier. And in the process deliver a vastly improved Web experience.
And suddenly, oh boy is Apple vulnerable.
Considering that Apple’s coming iPhone product rollout will be as much about its own Web-based content service called iCloud, that aims to connect Apples users to all their digital files across devices, Amazon is posing a fascinating threat with the Kindle Fire running a fast Silk browser. If Amazon can deliver a richer Web and experience, it will be in an enviable position. It will be able to do something Apple cannot: offer better way to buy. Considering how awful Apple’s own buying experience is on iTunes, the Silk-enabled Kindle Fire could be just the kind of improvement that can attract attention and customers on the Web.
Bottom line: If Amazon can deliver on the promise of the Fire as a better online retail experience, Apple better be careful here. Jeff Bezos really could have a retail barn-burner on his hands with the Kindle Fire.