Fire Sale

The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon will be releasing a $50 tablet “in time for the holidays”.

Multiple tech sites are picking up on the story and asking the question “Would you buy a $50 tablet?” I think that’s the wrong question. The right question is “Would you buy a $50 tablet from Amazon?”

Let’s talk about that a bit.

This is Amazon, the company that is perfectly willing to take a loss on hardware because they know they can make up for it in software. In the case of tablets, that “software” isn’t apps, it’s books, movies, and music. As best I can tell (keeping in mind that I don’t own an Amazon device), each new version of their customized version of Android makes it just a little harder to bring your own media in from outside the Amazon ecosystem. I don’t see the version they ship on this new tablet being any exception to that rule.

Then there’s the tablet itself. The WSJ says it’s going to have a six-inch screen. That’s phablet territory, and a size that manufacturers have concluded doesn’t work for tablets. Heck, it’s getting harder and harder to find seven-inch tablets (my preferred size) outside the bargain bin. That aside, the media experience on a six-inch screen isn’t great. Music is OK–as millions of iPod users will tell you, a screen isn’t really necessary for a purely-audio experience–but video is iffy. Even on a seven-inch screen, video is eye-squintingly small; as best I can tell from forum comments, video is the main driver in making phablets ever-larger. As for books, for all but those with excellent vision, a six-inch screen will mean either tiny print, or frequent page turns. Neither is a desirable user experience.

So would you buy a $50 tablet strictly for audio? Would it change your opinion if you knew that it only had a single monophonic speaker? Mono isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker for an audio device–witness the popularity of Sonos’ Play:One and Play:Three devices, both of which are monophonic. But the Sonos gadgets have much higher-quality speakers than anything that could fit in a tablet, even one selling for significantly more than $50, and they also offer the option of pairing two speakers for stereo. It seems unlikely that Amazon’s cheapie tablet would have a similar pairing capability.

One possibility would be that Amazon will position the tablet not so much for its own multimedia capabilities, but more as a glorified remote control for the Fire TV set-top box. But if you don’t already have a Fire TV, that’s another $40 on top of the $50 for the tablet. $90 is squarely in the same range as a Roku box or even an Apple TV–and Apple is expected to announce a new, more powerful version of the Apple TV tomorrow.

I don’t really see a market for Amazon’s little Fire tablet. Unless they have something really spectacular up their sleeve–and, based on the damp thud their Fire Phone made when it hit last year, I don’t think they do–I think the $50 tablet is going to be more of a wet match than a blowtorch when it comes to igniting sales.

3 thoughts on “Fire Sale

  1. Yeah, speaking as someone who (belatedly) found out that he couldn’t put his 30 gigs of iTunes on his Android phone, I’m not likely to make that mistake again, and I prefer to read my books in the pulp version, thank you. As for movies- wait. Are you kidding me, or are we trying to be serious, here. In monaural? Really? Thanks, anyway.

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    • There are, of course, ways around that little problem. Most of them seem to be more trouble than they’re worth, IMNSHO. Yes, they’re apparently serious. Movies. Six inch screen. Itty-bitty mono speaker. Obviously, an unparalleled viewing experience. (It’s unclear whether the thing has a headphone jack; if so, let’s hope that’s stereo…)

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  2. Pingback: More Good News | Koi Scribblings

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