The Kindle Fire looks good... But what is it for?

Steve Dinneen
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Apple burned by Kindle Fire. Fire heats up tablet market. Amazon fights the iPad with fire. It’s been a good week for fire related puns (and, therefore a good week for Google, which recently bought a fire-pun patent portfolio and is in the process of litigating against everyone who has used one*). Coverage for Amazon’s Kindle Fire has reached levels usually reserved only for a certain firm based in Cupertino.

And it’s hard to find anyone with a bad word to say about it. Most people have focused on its very reasonable $199 price-tag (even factoring in the inevitable tax-on-not-being-American, which will take the Fire from £128 to somewhere closer to £200, it’s still half the price of the iPad).

While pre-orders haven’t quite lived up to Apple’s standards, it still racked up close to 100,000 in its first day on sale. The problem is, I’m not quite sure what I’d use one for.

My iPad replaces my laptop for almost all day-to-day use, meaning I no longer have to sit with my knees squashed together, ankles splayed, to stop it sliding off (according to The Usual Suspects, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. Wrong. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing people laptops are convenient).

The Fire, though, is more restrictive. It has neither camera nor microphone, meaning I can’t chat on Skype or take pictures nobody will ever look at to upload on Facebook.

It’s a machine designed for consuming Amazon’s products; books, music and film. Given that it has a seven inch screen, it’s safe to say watching movies isn’t going to be a joy. Its speakers are too compact to give you outstanding audio. That leaves reading books; a market Amazon has already nailed with its brilliant Kindle reader.

The Fire may have a colour screen, but it lacks the e-ink that makes the Kindle such a joy to read on.

The Fire will pick up sales from people who want to enter the tablet market without forking out for an iPad. But its real value to Amazon is to protect its position in the e-reader market. The colour screen will woo those customers who may have opted for a Sony Reader or Nook instead of the Kindle – everyone else is a bonus.

It must be frustrating, then, that the Kindle Fire is almost never mentioned without a reference to the iPad, as if some jealous Apple deity, angry at the worship of false idols, must be appeased through publicity. As we speak., Tim Cook is sitting in Steve Jobs’ old office, tossing rail after rail of turtle-neck sweaters into a giant bonfire, cackling manically at all the free publicity.

It will be interesting to compare how many times Amazon, or any other company for that matter, is mentioned tomorrow, when Apple is hosting a launch event of its own. Amazon has enjoyed almost a week of publicity for its latest device. The iPhone 5 will ensure it doesn’t last too long.

* That’s a joke about the absurdity of the smartphone patent war. If you don’t get it, this column probably isn’t for you.