Lessons of the Kindle Fire's 'iPad killer' fantasy

Although there are signs its sales weren't as bright as expected, devices like the Fire are part of the IT realm

It was always nonsensical to think of the Amazon.com Kindle Fire e-reader tablet as an iPad killer, but Android fans and fanboy bloggers like to throw that label around with any new Android tablet. Still, the 7-inch Kindle Fire looked to be a game-changing e-reader, offering Web access and basic business connectivity features. If the iPad is a user's second screen (after a desktop or laptop), the Kindle Fire looked to be the third option, deployed primarily for entertainment but handy for a quick work check.

Sales looked to be strong upon the Fire's release over the Christmas holidays, but the fact that Amazon.com wouldn't break out the Fire's sales separately from all of its Kindle e-readers suggested the Fire never had the spark people expected. More water has been thrown on the Fire recently due to Texas Instruments' projected lower sales of the OMAP 4430 processor -- the CPU that powers the Kindle Fire. Only a few companies use the 4430, so the analysts bet it was a reduction in Amazon's purchases for the Fire. Analyst reports are notoriously suspect as to their "why" speculations, so lower-than-expected Fire sales is not a definitive explanation.

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But it's clear from reviews, user comments, and fanboy bloggers' inattention that the Fire has lost much of its spark. Amazon no longer markets it as its best-selling product, and it's now prominently selling refurbished (read: returned) units. The Web browser proved to be slow, and using a forked version of Android, the tablet's CPU, memory, and graphics don't compare to a "real" Android tablet, much less to an iPad.

Does this mean the Fire is a failure? No. It just means it's an e-reader first and foremost for books and videos. iPads and Android tablets are computing devices that, like PCs, also are great for playing video and music -- plus, they're great reading devices. But that's not their endgame, as it clearly is for the Fire.

As a third screen, the Fire still has some relevance to business users, unlike the other Kindle models (which I find better for reading books, but their lack of color restricts them to text). If you're traveling and engrossed in content on your Fire, you can easily check your email via its email client or Webmail and doing basic Web transactions like checking your flight status or dinner reservation.

Certainly a few mobile device management (MDM) vendors think the Fire will be used for basic business connectivity and have added support for the Fire in their server tools. Odyssey Software (recently acquired by Symantec) is one; Fiberlink is another. And NitroDesk has ported its secure Android email client, Touchdown, to the Fire.

In a world of heterogeneous devices, noncore devices like the Fire will be part of the endpoint mix for users and IT. That simply makes sense as we move way from the notion of one user, one device. The iPad-killer theme still casts the world in a "one user, one device" light -- now an archaic notion. Even if the iPad remains the tablet of choice for years to come, users will also take up smartphones, computers, gaming terminals, and, yes, e-readers as well for both business and personal purposes.

This article, "Lessons of the Kindle Fire's 'iPad killer' fantasy," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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