Last Thursday, Amazon announced the new Kindle Fire HD lineup featuring three new models, i.e. 7", 8.9" and 8.9" 4G. I finally finished watching the keynote last night -- it was a solid presentation featuring excellent products, great services and unbelievable pricing. I had to watch the keynote twice due to many disbeliefs I had watching it the first time.
I know Apple is going to announce presumably the next iPhone within a couple of days. I also assume that Apple would announce the final version of iOS 6 to be released at the same time as the next iPhone. Yet, I couldn't withhold my reactions on Amazon's amazing presentation. Even though I know historically that Apple would not make any decision simply to react to what their competitors are doing, I still think Apple could learn a few things from Amazon.
The iPad 2
I wouldn't compare the Kindle Fire HD 8.9" to the new iPad, because it's not an apple-to-apple comparison, but I couldn't help compare the new Kindle Fire HD 7" to the iPad 2. I know that the iPad 2 is 18 months old now, but the fact that Apple is still selling the 16 GB Wi-Fi model for $399 makes this comparison worthy enough for discussion.
Let's imagine someone who is not a geek and does not know anything about how great iOS, the iPad, and the App Store ecosystem are. If they come to you today asking for your recommendation on which tablet they should buy as entry level consumers with limited budgets, which device would you recommend? Let's also assume that the iPad 2's $399 price tag is the budget cap. Could you honestly say to them that you would recommend an iPad 2 over the new Kindle Fire HD 7"?
Now, don't get me wrong. I consider myself an Apple fan. I love Apple and their products. I am also an iOS developer that have helped create several apps on the App Store. Yet, I was in disbelief when I examined what Amazon announced last week.
Both the iPad 2 and the new Kindle Fire HD 7" have a 16 GB Wi-Fi model with approximately similar processor and RAM specifications. They have similar battery lives, i.e. around 10-11 hours. Yet, the new Kindle Fire HD 7" has a much better display when compared to the iPad 2 -- 1280x800 with 215 ppi versus 1024x768 with 132 ppi. The new Kindle Fire HD 7" even has a better front-facing camera; an HD one (presumably at least 720p), compared to the VGA camera that Apple decided to put on even the new iPad. Finally, the new Kindle Fire HD 7" is sold at half the price of the iPad 2.
Now, what reasons could you possibly give to a non-geek friend that trusts you for your technical expertise that you would recommend the iPad 2 over the new Kindle Fire HD 7"?
I could probably point out that the iOS 6 is arguably better than the Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) that Amazon has confirmed to be included in the new Kindle Fire HD lineup. The other reason is the number the great apps available on the App Store, many of which are still not available on Android. I know this to be true with the educational apps that are flourishing on the iOS platform, but not on Android.
Could Apple revisit the price of the iPad 2 16 GB Wi-Fi model that they are currently selling at $399? Would this also affect the new iPad's pricing tiers?
Exclusive OS features on Kindle Fire HD
Let's say that Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) is not the best OS you could put on a tablet. After all, Google put Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) on its Nexus 7. Nevertheless, I have to give credits to the software developer team at Amazon for delivering three great OS-level features to the new Kindle Fire HD lineup.
The first feature is Whispersync for Voice. I know that Apple has built iBooks sync since iOS 4.0, but Amazon has now proven the value of its acquisition of Audible.com in early 2008 by offering this exclusive feature. I don't know how Apple is going to catch up on this, if they ever will.
The second feature is X-Ray for Movies. This proves as another excellent strategic acquisitions made by Amazon 14 years ago. Without the IMDb's huge database, this feature would not be possible. The fact that this feature will be shown by default when the user pauses a movie would only highlight it as a significant advantage over what iOS has. I don't think Apple could rely on Siri for this.
The last one is Kindle FreeTime. As a parent who lets my juniors play with the great apps on the iPad, I would love to have a similar feature on iOS 6. Unlike all the other features, I believe this one can quickly be added into the next iOS 6 release, e.g. iOS 6.1 or iOS 6.2, hopefully before the next generation iPad is announced in February.
Not only does Kindle FreeTime allow you to set a total daily screen time limit for your juniors, but it also allows you to set the appropriate access to each content types, i.e. reading books, watching videos, and using apps/games. I personally think this is genius. The ability to turn the screen background to blue when the device is locked due to the time limit is just icing on the cake.
Finally, I love the fact that Amazon decided to put in support for multiple user profiles. I know that many families have a single device to be shared among their children, and having the ability to personalize the time limit for each child is just amazing. I find this to be an achievement considering that Google is still struggling to have it built into Android 4.1, and Apple only has Guided Access for iOS 6.
Come on, Apple! It shouldn't be that difficult to bake a similar feature in iOS 6.x. If you intend to keep your competitive advantage in the perspectives of many parents who care about the media their children are consuming and how these media are being consumed, you really need to step up your game.
I still believe Apple has the best products in the forms of the iPhone and the iPad, but you can't simply ignore what Amazon is doing. I'm not asking Apple to lower the price on their products. Keep the price, I'm fine with it. I only wish Apple would continuously learn from its competitors so that it's easier for us to recommend their products to our friends and families when they have significant advantages over competitive products.
I do hope that Apple would give more attention to the developer community that helped build the App Store ecosystem to be the giant that it is today. This could be their greatest competitive advantage over Amazon and Google. It would be sad if the huge lead that Apple currently has would slowly diminish.
I have high hopes for the next three big events that Apple is going to hold, i.e. the iPhone event, the next iPad event, and the next WWDC where they will announce iOS 7. I am eager to see how Apple continues to innovate with Amazon's pressures right on their tail.