Friday, September 30, 2011

Kindling a fire in the Amazon

One of the worst-held secrets in the tech industry came out this week with Amazon unveiling the (unfortunately named) Kindle Fire. It will be interesting to see whether Amazon, with their pre-existing and successful ecosystem already in place, can compete with the iPad (in ways RIM and others couldn't), or indeed whether this device is even intended to do so in the first place. At half the iPad's size and missing some features (like a camera), one can argue this point. However, that's a discussion for another time. I'd like to discuss the other Kindle devices they're coming out with.

Full disclosure: I own a Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch. I understand that some Kindle users can be just as fanboyish as the worst Apple user but I'm trying to be allegiance-agnostic: I didn't buy the Nook out of hatred for Amazon, or indeed love for B&N. I'm a big fan of Amazon's, actually, and the Kindle is a fantastic device. It's just that, at the time of purchase, all the reviews pointed to the Nook being a great device, the Kindle's equal, if not superior. What clinched it for me is the touchscreen on the Nook. Everyone has realized what Amazon hadn't: keyboards aren't cool. Amazon has just realized this themselves because their upcoming Kindles have eschewed keyboards also, joining the rest of the world (except poor, misguided RIM) in the 21st century.

I'm always interested in new technology and competition, as it forces everyone to up their game. I just hope Amazon isn't making a mistake by suddenly coming out with way too many varieties of the Kindle, leading to customer confusion. Let's run through them:
  • The Kindle we all know is being renamed the Kindle Keyboard. It comes in an ad-supported wifi and non-ad wifi/3G version.
  • Then there's the Kindle Touch coming out, similarly with an ad and non-ad version for wifi and wifi/3G.
  • There's also one simply called Kindle, again with ad and non-ad versions but only for wifi. This simple Kindle is a kind of budget version, with no touch screen, but has 5 navigation buttons. I can't imagine the hassle involved without a proper input method - I'd rather have a physical keyboard than no touch and 5 buttons! This Kindle has less memory and worse battery life than the others, to keep costs low.
  • Finally, the Kindle Fire. 
So I count 10 different flavours, sure to confuse customers. If you're reading this blog, I assume you have some sense about you but let's face it: most people don't know much and purchase items with no research. They'll waltz into Best Buy and let an equally know-nothing sales rep talk them into buying something neither of them knows anything about. I think it would have been best if Amazon streamlined their Kindles to the Touch device only, keeping a cheaper ad-supported wifi version and a pricier non-ad wifi/3G version, while still coming out with the Fire (I'm really interested in seeing this machine in action).

It's not like Amazon needs more help selling Kindles. At least I don't think so, since Amazon doesn't release sales info to the public. But I assume they're selling very well, so why introduce a huge gamut of products? I think it's a misstep.

But that's just me, I could be wrong. They might set the e-book industry on "fire". See what I did there? Wordplay. :D