Ever since Amazon unveiled its 7-inch Kindle Fire tablet in September, a lingering phrase has been attached to the low-cost, high-profile device: ”the iPad’s first true Android competitor.”
Unlike all the Android tablets that offer 10-inch screens, roomier storage capacities, built-in cameras and 3G support, the Fire will ship with modest hardware specs. In fact, the Amazon tablet would seem ill-prepared to take on the iPad, if not for a trio of would-be Apple-slaying features. The Fire will be insanely inexpensive at $200. It will hook into Amazon Prime, the company’s two-day package shipping and instant movie rental service, for just $79 a year. And the tablet will be supported by the all brand I.D. and operating efficiencies of a digital storefront that people already use daily to buy everything from physical goods to digital downloads.
In total, the Fire has the potential to be the first Android-based tablet to give Apple the chills. Amazon’s digital storefront alone should provoke concern.
But, no, Apple isn’t fazed. Barclays analyst Ben Reitzes recently met with Apple’s Tim Cook (CEO) and Peter Oppenheimer (CFO), both of whom have a more pessimistic view of the Amazon Fire’s future. Stated Reitzes, in a research note first reported by Business Insider:
While the pricing at $199 looks disruptive for what seems to be the iPad’s most important rising challenge, the Amazon Fire, is important to note that [the Kindle Fire] could fuel further fragmentation in the tablet market, given it represents yet another platform. While compatible with Android, the apps work with Amazon products.
Obviously, Apple has a stake in naysaying competing products, but Reitzes’ comments address a legitimate issue. Ever since it debuted three years ago, one of Android’s major pain points has been “fragmentation” — the splitting of different OS versions across multiple devices.
It’s a very real problem. Anyone planning to buy an Android device must consider whether his new phone or tablet will be rendered obsolete before its two-year life cycle is up (two years is the typical duration of mobile service contracts). Indeed, it’s all too common to buy an Android phone or tablet, and then learn that your device will never officially support new OS updates from Google.
A recent survey of 18 Android phones released since 2007 showed discouraging results: Over half of the devices surveyed stopped receiving OS updates from manufacturers less than one year after initial release.
It’s a situation that must make Apple giggle. As Reitzes wrote in his research note, ”The more fragmentation, the better, says Apple, since that could drive more consumers to the stable Apple platform.”