Fire offers a genuine alternative to the iPad

As app developers, we’ve been waiting for a decent Android tablet for some time. Given the runaway success of the Kindle, Amazon always seemed best-placed to give Apple a run for their money – and with the Amazon Fire, they may just have released the first successful mass-market Android tablet.

As app developers, the thing we’re most interested in is the Fire's app store model. We’ll happily port our apps to Android, as long as we can be sure people will actually pay for them. This is where Amazon have an opportunity no-one else (apart from Apple) can match. Amazon already have millions of customers’ credit card details, and pretty much invented the one-tap impulse purchase. In fact, they’re in a similar position to Apple when the iTunes App Store launched – with the customer base and infrastructure to support millions of cardless micropayments, directly on a device.

I’m encouraged by Amazon’s statement that ‘all apps are Amazon-tested on Kindle Fire’ – hopefully this means a closed, curated app store, where apps require approval before they appear on the store. This would be good news for developers looking to create and promote quality apps, especially compared to the mess that is the Google-run Android marketplace.

It’s not all good news as far as app development goes. The Fire is yet another device resolution and (more importantly) aspect ratio for us to design for. This makes it harder to develop an app (such as a fixed-layout book or magazine app) for both iPad and Fire, as we’ll need to lay out the pages differently to make the most of each tablet’s screen.

Putting apps aside, what does the Fire mean for Amazon’s traditional eReader audience? Sadly it’s hard to tell: the Fire's product page doesn’t show how books will look on the full-colour screen. This is an interesting omission from the device’s promotion, given how important the e-Ink screen has been in the Kindle’s success.

Rather than books, the product pages focus on the introduction of graphic novels, including a digital exclusive of Alan Moore’s classic Watchmen. Personally, I can’t see this working – the Fire’s screen is way too small for scaled-down versions of print comics, at less than ¾ the size of a traditional graphic novel. At that size, comic text will be virtually unreadable to the average user – a problem noticeable even on the iPad’s larger screen.

Nonetheless, I believe the Fire will be the first Android tablet to gain a critical mass of users. Importantly for us, all of them will be on the same hardware, and Amazon should make it easy for them to spend money on apps. This is the magic mix that ensured the iPad’s success, making it an attractive platform on which developers were willing to invest their time and energy.

The Fire isn’t an ‘iPad-killer’, but it’s close enough in functionality that many Kindle users will trust it as an obvious tablet purchase. I don’t expect many people to buy both devices – in the same way that Android phone users don’t feel they’re missing out by not having an iPhone – which means that the Fire is the first genuine alternative to the iPad.

 And on that theme, the Fire’s real killer feature is its price – $199. At that price point, Amazon are going to sell bucketloads



Graphic novels

John Pettigrew's picture

Good article, and I'm looking at the Fire with interest. (Not to buy, though!) For all the people claiming that a tablet has to be ten inches, I think they're missing the point. Ten inch tablets (iPad included) are too large and heavy to be decent ereaders, which is what the Fire was designed to be.

As to graphic novels, though, I'd disagree with you. Comixology's tech for reading graphic novels is excellent. You can see the full page, but it zooms and pans around the panels very nicely. 

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