Why the iPad has smoked the Kindle Fire

Tablet users expect their mobile device to help them get stuff done -- something Amazon.com's little tablet can't do

Sales of the Kindle Fire are tanking, and that says something important about the tablet market: "People want to get some work done on their tablets," asserts IDC analyst Tom Mainelli. That seems pretty obvious, but for most of late fall and early winter, technology blogs were predicting the Android-derived Fire would displace the iPad. After a Christmas sales bulge, the Fire's sales have sunk.

To understand why, consider Mainelli's work life. He travels a lot, and on those trips, he needs to stay on top of his email. He can't do that on a Kindle because his company uses Lotus Notes, which isn't compatible with the Fire. Even if IDC used the far more popular Exchange platform, it still wouldn't matter: The Fire isn't compatible with it, either. What's more, have you tried writing anything beyond a casual email on the Fire's 7-inch screen and shrunken keyboard?

[ InfoWorld's Galen Gruman explains why IT still needs to pay attention to the fizzled Kindle Fire. | Understand how to both manage and benefit from the consumerization of IT trend with InfoWorld's "Consumerization Digital Spotlight" PDF special report. | Subscribe to InfoWorld's Consumerization of IT newsletter today. ]

The iPad does not suffer from those limitations, and in the world of BYOD, that makes all the difference. You might say that real work is, from the Kindle's point of view, the killer non-app.

Kindle Fire users were not impressed
The Kindle's limitations (and those of other wannabe iPads) are cast in stark relief this week as two research groups published scathing sales reports for the first quarter of the year. According to ABI Research, sales of the Fire fizzled in the first quarter, dropping by 80 percent over the previous quarter. Sure, we all know that the post-Christmas pause always lowers first-quarter sales, but the entire tablet market was down by just 33 percent, ABI found.

IDC's preliminary sales numbers show that Amazon.com shipped 4.5 million Kindle Fires in the fourth quarter of 2011 but just 700,000 in the first quarter of this year, cutting its market share to a meager 4 percent. Apple shipped 11.8 million iPads, for a share of 68 percent.

Amazon.com made serious mistakes as it rushed the Kindle Fire to market late last year. It did so for the holiday sales, of course, where its robust pickup contrasted even more significantly with the weak post-holiday figures. But Amazon.com also underestimated the iPad: Although less than half the price of an iPad, the Fire came to market much later. Users ended up comparing the Fire to the pricier Apple standard -- fairly or unfairly -- and found it wanting.

ChangeWave Research has found that only 41 percent of surveyed Fire users were "very satisfied" with it. Users of the third-generation iPad, on the other hand, were almost twice as happy with their purchase (81 percent), while 71 percent of iPad 2 users were "very satisfied." Interestingly, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, generally considered the best Android tablet on the market, didn't fare that much better than the Fire, scoring just 46 percent. (To be fair, Fire users don't hate the device: 53 percent said they were "somewhat satisfied.")

Although ChangeWave didn't drill down into the reason for consumer dissatisfaction, it's likely that a poor browsing experience was an issue. Amazon.com made a point of touting the speed and convenience of its Silk browser, but "they promised a fast browser and delivered a slow one," says IDC's Mainelli.

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