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What the Amazon Kindle Fire Tablet Needs to Succeed

Kindle-style pricing
The Amazon tablet reportedly features a 7in touchscreen, basic 2-point multitouch, a custom edition of the Android OS and a single-core CPU (although some report a dual-core chip). Against other top Android tablets, this spec list appears rather underpowered – and what strategy can this possibly point to, apart from undercutting the opposition?

With the state the non-iPad tablet market is in, this won’t be easy. Uninspiring sales have caused many manufacturers to slash their prices dramatically. The Motorola Xoom, HTC Flyer and BlackBerry PlayBook have been seen selling for up to £200 off their original retail prices, in a desperate attempt to shift units. And now Amazon has to compete with these kinds of cuts.

Amazon has used the Kindle 3 as a loss-leader for its ebook store though – and it may do the same for its tablet. However, this also rams home the sad truth that getting access to the Android Market through it is extremely unlikely. It has to make its money from somewhere, and if it’s not through hardware, it’ll be through Kindle ebook profits and Amazon’s cut of Appstore sales.

There is another way, though. In April 2011, Amazon launched an ad-funded version of the Kindle, which displays ads instead of the screensaver pics used in a standard model. Such a tactic is a possibility, but unless the Fire ends up using an unlikely colour e-ink alternative, it’s highly problematic. To display images on a backlit screen requires significant power consumption, and so would have to intrude on the owner’s experience significantly. Hardly something that’ll seem good against the slick feel of the iPad.

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Differentiation from Android also-rans

Part of the problem Android tablets face is not being able to differentiate themselves from each other. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, Asus Eee Pad Transformer, Sony S1 and Motorola Xoom may look slightly different from the outside, but once you dive into the Android Honeycomb interface, everything starts to feel very familiar.

Some have managed to make their mark, though. The latest is Fusion Garage’s Grid10 tablet, which looks nothing like standard Android – whether this will give it greater pull among the gadget-buying crowd is yet to be seen.

Honeycomb
The interface won’t look like this, but that’s no bad thing

The Amazon tablet undoubtedly needs its own identity, and a recognisable user interface is something that could effectively supply this. If it rolls onto Amazon’s shelves with a generic-looking Google-designed UI, we will be most disappointed.

This outcome is unlikely – the Amazon Fire uses a modified version of Android 2.1. As old as this version of Android is – released in January 2010 – Amazon’s level of customisation will hopefully make it a different beast entirely. And if it doesn’t, it’s sunk.

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