The New Kindle Fire -- What It Needs to be a Hit

Amazon has kindled the fires of speculation with its announcement Thursday of a press event on September 6, which likely signals the launch of new Kindles, including an updated Kindle Fire. The event occurs almost a year since the introduction of the first Kindle Fire. It's also just six days before Apple's expected press event, where the rumored iPad “Mini” may finally make an appearance and pose a true thread to the future success of the Fire.

Analysts say that a smaller iPad could be a massive hit for Apple, considering consumers’ desire for smaller form factors when it comes to tablets. Some consumers don’t need a larger tablet akin to the iPad; nor do they have the $500 to plunk down on such a device. So 7-inch tablets such as the Kindle Fire or the Google Nexus 7 have become popular alternatives.

While Amazon hit a low price, just shy of $200, with its first Kindle Fire, the tablet disappointed in many ways. This time around, the pressure is on Amazon to produce a competitive tablet that compete on more than price. What must the company do to ensure the next Kindle Fire is as big a hit -- or bigger -- than the first? Here are five things I’m looking for.

1. Less E-Reader, More Tablet

While the Fire took the e-reader to the next level by using a custom variation of the Android operating system, critics pointed out that it still wasn’t useful as a tablet. Amazon's Android variant relied on apps downloaded solely from its Appstore, and it lacked some of the functionality common to standard Android tablets. In contrast, the iPad Mini will likely give users a tablet experience in a smaller form factor, just like the Google Nexus 7 already does for Android tablets. The new Kindle Fire must provide a better tablet-like experience while staying true to its content-centric roots in order to compete head to head with the iPad Mini.

2. Keep it Cheap, but Don’t Cut Corners on Design

Also criticized was the Fire’s design quality, which felt as inexpensive as its price. Amazon appears to be taking these concerns to heart: BGR reported in June that one of the enhancements will be a metal case versus the plastic one it has now. That’s a welcome change, but only as long as it remains close to its current price point.

3. Better Features, More Speed

Even with the use of Android, the tablet’s feature set looked more like a e-book than a tablet. That seems to be ready to change. The forthcoming Kindle Fire update is expected to gain a dual-core processor and front-facing camera, as well as an HDMI-out port. These features will make the Kindle Fire more competitive with tablets.

4. Give it a Big Sibling

If you really want to take on the iPad, move in on Apple's home turf: the 10-inch tablet. That’s what we’re hearing Amazon has up its sleeve: An additional, larger Kindle Fire model with a quad-core processor. This would give the Fire as much oomph as most other mainstream tablets, and enable consumers to run more powerful programs. Which leads me to...

5. Open It Up

It may be a desire to control the experience, or an admission that the current Kindle just can’t handle it, but Amazon has the Android app experience locked down. Many apps don't run on the Fire. With these new Fires, Amazon needs to open up the experience and give users a better selection of apps to run on the device. Based on the hardware feature set we’re hearing, there isn’t much that these new Fires couldn’t run. But the software needs to be there, too.

Address these concerns, and the new Kindle Fire (or Fires) has a good chance of succeeding. But one thing’s for certain: with the Nexus 7 around, and the iPad mini likely on the way, being just a e-reader off-shoot isn’t going to cut it any more.

For more tech news and commentary, follow Ed on Twitter at @edoswald, on Facebook or on Google+ as well as Today @ PCWorld.

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