Did Amazon rush Kindle Fire to prevent Nook Tablet’s domination?

Did Amazon rush Kindle Fire to market? It certainly seems so. Nearly all the problems actual owners are reporting fall into two categories -

  1. Fundamental Hardware design decision mistakes such as not having a volume control and not having a back button. Physical buttons are so nineteen-ninety-late.
  2. Basic Software issues such as the Carousel and the touchscreen responsiveness fluctuating. Who wouldn’t want their erotic books displayed on their front page?

It’s interesting how many of the software issues are basic issues that one or two rounds of bug fixes would solve. It’s even more interesting how nearly all the hardware issues are issues that even a 2 to 3 week user test would highlight. These are issues that really shouldn’t be there in a proper release. It certainly suggests that Amazon rushed the release of the Kindle Fire.

Today, we have interesting takes on Kindle Fire -

  1. New York Times paints a dismal picture claiming most Kindle Fire owners are disgruntled. Trust NY Times to side with the iPad.
  2. TechCrunch thinks we should not underestimate the Kindle Fire, Amazon’s Trojan Horse.

The key thing is that Amazon didn’t have an option. What are the three best sub $250 Tablet options in the market? Nook Tablet, Kindle Fire, Nook Color (according to my experiences – Nook Tablet is first and then Kindle Fire is second and Nook Color is a close third).

If Amazon waited to do the fixes that users almost certainly pointed out during user testing, and to fix the bugs that Amazon almost certainly knows about (Optimized Mode in Silk Browser is slower than unoptimized mode – the horror), then it would have missed the Holiday Season. Then we would have had Nook Tablet as the #1 sub $250 tablet and Nook Color as the #2 sub $250 Tablet.

Instead of:

  1. 5 million Kindle Fire Sales and 2.5 million Nook Tablet and Nook Color sales in Holiday Season 2011.

We would have had:

  1. 5 million Nook Tablet and Nook Color sales in Holiday Season 2011. Zero Kindle Fire sales.

This causes all sorts of headaches i.e. developers and publishers and authors start optimizing for Nook Tablet and Nook Color. People start associating Nook with High Value Tablets.

This (the threat of Nook Tablet and Nook Color) is precisely why Amazon rushed Kindle Fire

Amazon is scared to death of what Nook Tablet and Nook Color might do in the casual reader market. Casual Readers are serious shoppers. B&N is almost certainly going to pair up with Google or another provider for movies and music. It’s already started to sell rugs and such. It’s already bought Borders’ customer email list. Where does that leave Amazon?

Well, if Amazon doesn’t rush Kindle Fire, it leaves Amazon out in the cold. Amazon had already spotted B&N a year in the Reading Tablet Market. If it also spotted B&N 6 to 9 months in the low-price Tablet market, it would become too much of a lead.

My random guess at what happened

Amazon has a very cool and innovative Tablet. It was taking way longer than expected. When Jeff Bezos realized that it wasn’t going to arrive until mid 2012 (perhaps because of Mirasol integration issues), he decided to swallow the bitter pill of taking the Playbook and branding it with a Kindle logo (the size of the logo on the back should be a clue) and a rough version of the OS the ACTUAL Kindle Fire Tablet was going to use.

It doesn’t make me very happy to realize this (as a Kindle Fire owner) – However, it’s pretty likely that we’ll see a much advanced Kindle Fire in 2012 that will be nothing like the current Kindle Fire. We’re talking about a company that spent 4 years and made a Kindle that was like nothing else (and not necessarily in only good ways). Would it really have cloned a Playbook?

Is it OK to release an unpolished product to prevent a rival’s dominance?

Don’t really know the answer to that question. Amazon has a very strong brand and customers will give it some benefit of the doubt. It also ate a lot of the cost and sold Kindle Fire for $199. While there’s no way to excuse releasing a product where the ‘optimized’ version of the ‘silky smooth’ Silk Browser runs slower than the unoptimized version, its understandable that Amazon didn’t want to get left behind BOTH Apple and B&N.

If Amazon sells 5 million Kindle Fires (and all signs point to Yes) and does a lot of software updates that fix 90% of the issues that should have been fixed before release, customers will be OK for the most part. In fact, psychologically, a certain research study which is now hard to find shows that people like a company more when it messes up and then fixes the mess. We literally prefer a flawed hero who redeems himself over a hero who is already perfect (except Tim Tebow and Chuck Norris).

Amazon’s pulled it off. Kindle Fire has a lot of flaws that no publicly released device/product should have. However, it has managed to -

  1. Sell millions of devices.
  2. Validate the market for a low-priced Tablet from Amazon.
  3. Slow the rise to power of Nook Color and Nook Tablet.
  4. Show how much trust its customers have in Amazon.
  5. Shown the importance of being first to market or at least quick to market.

[Update: A Comment from Mike that's perfect]

The question is not, ‘Is it OK to release an unpolished product to prevent a rival’s dominance.” It is “Would that approach possibly work?” Answer seems to be yes…

Of course, there is not a single person in the world who bought a Kindle Fire instead of an iPad. So Amazon hasn’t achieved everything it wanted to. A powerful new Kindle Fire 2 is around the corner. Kindle Fire has played its part – its made sure that the Kindle Fire 2 will enter a market where Amazon already has a sizable presence.

13 Responses

  1. The question is not, ‘Is it OK to release an unpolished product to prevent a rival’s dominance.” It is “Would that approach possibly work?” Answer seems to be yes…

    • Yes, very true.

      • I think Amazon (or any company that pursued such a strategy) would have to carefully consider how much abuse their customer base was willing to absorb. Without knowing exactly what percentage of KFs are being returned, it’s impossible to say whether Amazon calculated correctly in this case. My guess is that they probably did.

  2. Amazon is promising a major software upgrade within the next two weeks. So, while I wish the Fire had been more polished (I don’t mind the power switch or the lack of a volume button) software-wise out of the box, I really don’t understand the fuss and I am pretty certain that the Times is making a mountain out of molehill. It’s not an iPad — I know that already.

    Likewise, I understand that it’s designed to be used within Amazon’s curated garden. I understood that coming in. Again. I’m not sure why this is such a bad thing. It’s not as though this is preventing me from doing anything that I want to do.

    Like you said, 90 percent of the gripes will have been addressed within 6 weeks of release. Not optimal but not too shabby, either.

  3. A friend bought the Fire and it refused to turn on after 2 weeks. This is not just a bug but a pretty major flaw.

  4. Wouln’t trust the NC Times.

  5. I disagree. I have few problems with my kindle fire. For the price still can not be beat in my opinion.

  6. “Of course, there is not a single person in the world who bought a Kindle Fire instead of an iPad.”

    Actually, I know you have your tongue planted firmly in your cheek, but my wife DID buys Fire instead of an iPad. Guess that makes her the only one…
    :)

    • “Guess that makes her the only one…”

      @ Tony Reynolds: Maybe… or maybe not. I don’t have the resources to purchase a tablet, but if I did, my choice would not be any form of Nook, nor an iPad, and Sony wouldn’t even enter into the equation. The Kindle Fire would clearly be my choice

  7. “However, it’s pretty likely that we’ll see a much advanced Kindle Fire in 2012 that will be nothing like the current Kindle Fire.”

    Abhi, I think this analysis is right on the mark. One thing we’ve learned as the e-ink Kindle has progressed through its various incarnations is that Amazon will not hesitate to abandon a device once they’ve developed a better version.

    On another note, have you been following the reaction to the NYT article on Kindleboards (where I posted a link Sunday night) or the NYT comments section? Apple fans may be the most rabid when it comes to defending “their” company’s products, but Amazon folks are not far behind!

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