By Lou Covey
The web is awash with reviews of the Kindle Fire, most positive, and comparisons to the iPad are just as plentiful. The question that keeps coming up, however, is whether the Fire is a game changer in the tablet war.
Compared to iPad the Fire is an inexpensive, entry-level tablet for newbies. At $199 it is less than half the price of the iPad, which means it's a good choice for people who want the media experience of a tablet at bargain prices. It should be noted that Apple has released the latest version of its iPod Touch at the same price, so consumers still have something of an Apple-branded alternative at the lower price point.
The Fire performs slower than the iPad and barring significant improvements in touch technology using key pad apps will be difficult on the much smaller screen. The iPad, especially when paired with an after-market Bluetooth keyboard, makes an effective laptop replacement. There are even productivity apps that make it possible to use the iPad for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. All of that is lacking in the Fire. As far as content goes, the Fire serves well as a distribution method for subject matter sourced from Amazon, but like most Android devices, it lacks the depth of apps available in the iOS universe. So Apple execs won't be losing any sleep over the sales of the Fire. Google, on the other hand...
The introduction of the Fire further fragments the developer community that is divided between iOS, Android, Blackberry and even Microsoft 7 Phone (MS7). Developers can bypass the Google Market and deal directly with Amazon, which is great for Amazon but not so much for Google. IDC just released a quarterly survey that shows that developers are abandoning all other tablets in North America to create apps for the Fire. The trend seems to be going that way in Asia and Europe, as well. So while Google was looking at Apple as their main competitor, Amazon has been snaking the market out from under them!
The future for RIM's Blackberry is even grimmer. The same IDC report said MS7 has now surpassed RIM as the third place tablet OS developers prefer to work in. Along with the continuing decline in the overall device market, RIM seems to be hanging on by its fingernails.
So the Fire IS a game changer for RIM. Their technology has just not kept up with the market’s development. The Playbook was a joke, a little less funny than HP's tablet. RIM is going nowhere... except into someone else's division.
RIM still has a lot of value. They have a pretty loyal customer base, albeit shrinking. They have that bag of Nortel patents in wireless technology, the best security platform (a lot better than Android, specifically) and the best integration of MS Exchange and Lotus notes. Microsoft could become a serious competitor to Android and iOS if they bought RIM, and that would change the game for everyone.