Would Google Play, Google Apps be a negative for Kindle Fire HD Owners?

It’s very interesting to see the reaction of existing Nook HD and HD+ owners to the addition of Google Play to Nook HD and HD+.

How Nook owners react to Google Play is important and relevant because Amazon MIGHT (and the key word is MIGHT) add Google Play to Kindle Fire HD at some point of time in the future. It has to either add Google Play or cut the price or come up with some other means to compete effectively.

Kindle Fire HD needs to find some competitive advantages.

The 30-40-30 Divide – Some Nook Owners actually don’t want Google Play

While the reaction in the Press has been almost unanimous.

Nook HD with Google Play is now the best Android Tablet. Nook HD with Google Play is ‘One of the Best’ Android Tablets now. Nook HD is so open its battery and processor are falling out.

The reaction from users, actual users who paid $199 to buy the Nook HD before it had Google Play, is mixed.

  1. Approximately 30% love it. They think it makes Nook HD and HD+ a better device. Some of them talk about buying more Nook HDs for their family. Note: These are people who think it’s a definite improvement. They seem to be veering towards either splitting purchases between B&N and Google or shifting over to Google.
  2. Approximately 40% like it but prefer the Nook Store. What does that mean? They like having Google Play as an option. They still consider the in-built Nook ebook store and the Nook Videos Store and the Nook App Store as their first choice.
  3. The most interesting group are the 30% who don’t like the change. There are many reasons (which we’ll get into later). However, there is a very clear group of users that doesn’t like the addition of Google Play.

Let’s start by understanding the pros and cons of adding Google Play to a device. This will set the tone for the rest of the post.

What Google Play actually brings to the Tablet

There are a lot of good things about having Google Play added to a Tablet -

  1. Choice in App Stores. You get the existing App Store plus you get Google Play.
  2. Choice in eBook Stores. You get apps for Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Blio, etc. via Google Play. Suddenly your device can access all the major ebook stores. Kindle Fire HD owners would be able to buy and read books from B&N and Kobo and any ebook store that makes an Android App.
  3. Choice in Movie and Music Stores. You get Google Videos and Music. That forces the device maker to improve their own offerings.
  4. Wider Range of Apps. Amazon’s Kindle Fire Store has 50,000 to 60,000 Apps. Perhaps 500 to 1,500 of those are top quality. Android Store has 700,000 Apps. Perhaps 3,000 of them are top quality, optimized for Tablets, and not yet available in Kindle Fire App Store. An increase from 1,500 top quality apps to 4,500 top quality apps is a tripling and very significant. This is especially important if you want a niche app or a local app. Those are mostly made for Apple App Store and Android App Store.
  5. Official Google Apps. If you want GMail or Google Maps or another official Google App, now you get it.
  6. Lots of Free Apps. Android is an advertising based platform. Amazon is a mix of advertising and paid. The number of free apps in the Android Store is massive. So you can now, if you choose so, stop paying for apps completely.
  7. Increase in Value of the Tablet. The resale value just went up because there will now be a lot more people interested in the Tablet.

There are, unfortunately, some bad things about getting Google Play (it might be hard to believe, but it isn’t all unicorns and puppies) -

  1. The inclusion of Google Play is only allowed if a bunch of Google Apps are also installed. Some are set as defaults. These Apps are a problem because they run in the background and do all sorts of strange things. They send data to Google’s Cloud and download ads and eat up battery life. Nook owners have reported huge decreases in battery life (cut to 1/4th, cut to 1/2). Decreases that went away when these Nook owners disabled the default Google Apps. Note: This is possible due to Nook HD and HD+ having a profiles feature that lets you disable apps for certain profiles. Not sure if a similar feature exists for Kindle Fire HD.
  2. The default browser gets replaced by Chrome. This is perhaps a requirement for getting Google Play store. This creates two problems – you are switched to a browser you might not be familiar with, the Tablet version of Chrome is terrible (it’s the only version I’ve used). It’s interesting how many Nook users are switching to another browser (over 50% of them). Makes me wonder how Chrome managed to get a large market share on the Desktop.
  3. Google Play has more high quality Tablet optimized apps (4,000 or more versus 1,500 or so for Amazon Store). However, the signal to noise ratio is poor. You have to weed through 700,000 Apps to get to those 4,000 Apps. At least with the Kindle Fire App Store you know there’s some level of curation. Finding 4,000 top-notch apps in a store of 700,000 (approximately 1 out of 200) is a bit of a pain. By comparison, in the Kindle Fire App Store, you can find 1,500 top-notch apps out of the 60,000 available (1 out of 40). So it’s roughly 4-5 times tougher to find good apps in the Android Store.
  4. Google Play Store is not curated. Hello Viruses & Malware! Google Play Store is Open. You can just write your app, bundle any virus or malware you like into the App, and submit it. There’s no human curation or human check. Recently, tens of millions of Android devices got the ‘Bad News’ malware through Android Apps. You need an Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware program. Which has to run all the time to work well. There goes performance and speed.
  5. Loss of Familiarity. You go from the nice closed Amazon ecosystem that you are used to, to an ecosystem that’s very open and a bit wild. Google software is very aggressive about things like checking for updates. There are lots of options everywhere. It’s a lot more technical. It’s not as user-friendly. One thing that Kindle Fire HD and Nook HD did very well is hide a lot of the complexity and make things dead simple to use. Add back Google Apps and Google Play and you run into problems. Firstly, it’s new and unfamiliar. Secondly, it’s not that simple to use. Thirdly, the Google Play store and apps will clash with the Kindle App Store and Apps for resources.
  6. Google gets to track you. Keep in mind that this is a company that hopes to one day ‘tell you what you should do, even before you realize it yourself’. It gets a wealth of information about you and your behavior. You can minimize this by not using a Google browser and by avoiding the in-built Google Apps. I doubt Google has access to user data from non-Google Browsers and from non-Google Apps.
  7. Lots of Android Apps track your data and sell it. Since the focus is on free Apps, it creates incentives for the developers to find other ways to make money. One is Advertisements. Another is In-App Purchases (watch out if you have kids). The most dangerous is ‘Selling User Data’. There are lots of companies willing to buy user data profiles and user data. Quite a few Android developers do collect and sell data. A study found that even some of the big brands do this on Android.

As you can see, it’s not all peaches and cream in the Open Land of the Free Everything.

Whether it be the battery life and wireless costs of apps running in the background and downloading ads. Whether it be the privacy lost as apps track you and upload your usage data. Whether it be the always running Google Apps and their own data collection. Whether it be the risk of viruses. You’ve suddenly gone from a nice, safe ecosystem to a wildly open and openly wild ecosystem.

Revisiting the 40-30-30 Divide

Now, the 40-30-30 divide makes more sense -

  1. The first 30% either don’t care about or don’t know about the hidden costs of having Google’s Open and Benevolent App Store. For them, all that matters is the wider choice of apps, and the fact that most of them are free.
  2. The second 40% like having the choice. However, either due to familiarity with, and preference for, the in-built App Store, or due to a good understanding of the risks of the Android Store, these users prefer the in-built store. Google Play is just a good second option.
  3. The third 30% are the users who either just don’t need, or just don’t like, the Google App Store. Perhaps some of them understand the drawbacks of having an uncurated, open, and wild App Store and the downsides of always running Google Apps. Perhaps they simply don’t like the trade-off.

What was stunning to me was that 70% of Nook HD owners didn’t care very much about the addition of Google Play Store. Even more stunning was that 30% of users disliked it. Sometimes we take what the tech press preaches as gospel. Then we’re hit by actual users’ reality.

Of course, we aren’t addressing all the people who will buy Nook HD and HD+ now, due to the availability of the Google Play Store. Perhaps millions. However, if we look at the 1 million or so users who bought Nook HD and HD+, it’s very interesting to see that Google Play matters a lot to only 30%.

Perhaps it’s self-selection bias. Those most likely to get a Kindle Fire HD or a Nook HD are probably the users who care least about the Google Play Store.

Whatever the reason, the reaction of Nook HD owners to Google Play Store might hold some important lessons for Amazon.

Existing Kindle Fire HD users might not care very much about Google Play Store

If Kindle Fire HD owners are similar to Nook HD owners (and there is a lot of similarity), 70% of Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Fire owners don’t care very much about having Google Play Store.

30% of existing Kindle Fire HD owners might actively dislike the addition of the Google Play Store. 40% might not care very much whether or not it exists.

It’s important to note that all/most of these users bought Kindle Fire HD knowing that it didn’t have Google Play Store.

Thus, the question changes from

  • What should Amazon do to compete with Nook HD? Should it add Google Play Store?

to

  • What percentage of future Kindle Fire HD owners want Google Play? What percentage consider the lack of availability of Google Play Store on Kindle Fire HD a deal breaker?

My assumption would be that only 30% of current Kindle Fire HD owners, and only 35% to 40% of prospective Kindle Fire HD owners, care deeply about Google Play Store.

That’s a pretty big number. No company in the Tablet Space can afford to turn away 35% to 40% of prospective customers. However, what’s really surprising to me is the other part of the equation.

  1. That 60% to 65% of people who will EVER buy a Kindle Fire HD or any Kindle Fire don’t care. They simply don’t care enough about Google Play for it to be a deal breaker.
  2. That nearly half of these people consider the absence of Google Play and Google Apps on the Kindle Fire HD a good thing.

Of course, there’s another twist. What type of customers is Amazon after? Does Amazon want Google Android type customers or does it want Apple iPad type customers?

Adding Google Play might be the death knell for Amazon’s hopes of competing with iPad and iPad Mini

In the above discussions we’ve considered ‘People looking to buy an Android Tablet’.

What about ‘People looking to buy the Best Tablet’?

That’s where things get really interesting. All the negatives of adding Google Play Store to the Kindle Fire HD matter to these people.

Quick Reminder – Google Apps are preinstalled and forced on users, Chrome browser is forced on users, it’s difficult to find high quality apps in the Google Play Store, there’s a risk of catching viruses and spyware, Google and some Android Apps track you and take your information.

Additional Note: Most Android software is not intuitive or user friendly (including Google’s own Apps). It’s not just the always running and always collecting data aspects, it’s also the lack of ease of use and the lack of simplicity.

These are all things that might not matter much to users looking for ‘The Cheapest Tablet with the most Free Apps’. They matter a lot to users looking for ‘The Best Tablet with the Best Experience and the Best Apps’.

Quite interestingly, users who want quality, and who are willing to pay for quality, are much likelier to want to avoid the downsides of the Google Android experience. That makes a lot of sense.

Please Note: It’s not an indictment of Android. Android is excellent for users who are tech-savvy or who are OK with the model of Free Software supported by advertising and data collection. Android is great for a particular set of users. We’re talking about a different set of users.

Users who are willing to pay $250 and $350 and $450 and $550 for Tablets. Well, they might not be too happy if Amazon moves away from the curated, safe, no-hassles ecosystem of Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD and moves towards Google’s Open and Chaotic ecosystem.

In fact, they probably want the exact opposite – For Kindle Fire HD to become easier and higher quality and more curated. To save them even more times and hassle. To be even more intuitive.

Think about the idea Tablet Experience if you don’t have tight budgetary restrictions and aren’t technologically inclined – Extreme Ease of Use, High Quality Curation, Complete Protection against Malware and Viruses, More Simplicity, No Hassles, Not having to think too much to get things done.

Amazon has to pick who it competes against

I think Jeff Bezos had the right idea when he started the whole ‘The Best Tablet … At Any Price’ iPad vs Kindle Fire HD comparison last year.

He just had the wrong Tablet.

The Kindle Fire HD is still a long ways from competing against the iPad Mini and the iPad. Let alone winning. However, setting up the ‘Kindle Fire HD vs iPad’ comparison was excellent for a few reasons.

  1. It set the bar high. Why compete against the 2nd best Tablet when you can compete against the best.
  2. It creates a lot of buzz. The Press are all in a tizzy that someone would dare compete with their darling Apple.
  3. It goes after the best customers. Those who are willing to pay for quality in hardware, software, ecosystem and experience.

It’s interesting to notice that Microsoft is doing something similar. Surface Pro and RT aren’t aimed at the Android crowd. They’re aimed at the corporate and high-end markets.

Perhaps more and more companies are realizing that it’s better to get 80% of the Profits and 20% of the Overall Market. Let someone else take all the customers of low profitability. Perhaps companies are realizing that if Samsung can use Apple’s model to start eating up Apple’s profit streams, then so can they.

Amazon has a very interesting decision to make as Android gobbles up more and more Tablet Market Share. As B&N and other players capitulate to the Little Green Peeping Tom Robot. Does it want to replace Apple? Does it want to split Apple’s market? Does it want to replace Android?

Kindle Fire HD’s future direction, and its survival, will depend on what option Amazon chooses.

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