Just in time for Black Friday, the battle over the holiday season’s hottest gift just got a lot more interesting.
Yep, we’re talking about tablets. The latest salvo was fired Tuesday with the launch of Amazon’s Kindle Fire, which is expected to go head-to-head with the Barnes & Noble Nook and finally give Apple’s iPad some real competition (Amazon hopes so, anyway.) With only six weeks left in the year, analysts predict Amazon could sell five million of the new tablets before January 1.
Priced much lower than the $499 iPad 2, the $199 Kindle Fire has a more specific focus on media consumption. The new, 7-inch-display tablet is built primarily for reading books and magazines, watching video and streaming music. It runs on a customized version of Google’s Android operating system. The three most prominent video-streaming services you’ll find on the new Fire are Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon’s own Prime service, which allows users to freely stream more than 10,000 movies and TV shows for $79 a year -- in addition to other rental and sales options.
With its extensive and established customer base, the Internet’s leading retailer aims to undermine Apple’s iPad 2 sales, which hit a record 9.3 million in the latest quarter and a total of 28 million since the 2010 launch.
"We believe the Fire's low $199 price point and broad distribution ... will help expand the market to consumers who previously may have been reluctant to purchase a higher-priced tablet," said JP Morgan analyst Doug Anmuth.
On the other side of the battle is the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet, which is almost identical to its predecessor, the Nook Color. The traditionally in-store retailer is pushing its online presence with the $249, 8-inch-display tablet that, like the Fire, is built primarily for media consumption. The 32 GB storage capacity gives the Nook a leg up on the Fire. However, all the digital media you purchase through Amazon -- apps, music, videos, books, etc. -- is stored in the Amazon Cloud for free. One thing the Nook does have that the Fire doesn’t is a way for you to read to your kids while you’re away. The Nook’s built-in microphone and 'Read and Record' feature allows you to record your voice reading one page or an entire book that’s installed on the tablet.
Regardless of price, what it really comes down to is what ecosystem you want to be a part of: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Apple. Apple and Amazon do have an appealing -- and money-making -- advantage with built-in music and movie stores. Neither the Nook nor the Fire are as feature-heavy as the iPad 2, with its nearly 10-inch display, camera and 3G or 4G cellular data options.
At the end of the day, no one has been able to seriously give the iPad a run for its money thus far. HP killed its TouchPad only 49 days after its debut. Two Android-based tablets -- the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Motorola Xoom -- are still out there, but not even causing Apple to take a second look.
So how do you choose? As a consumer, you need to decide which device will give you the most for your money. Don’t pay the extra hundreds of dollars for features you don’t need and won’t use. Weigh the pros and cons of each, and if a lower-priced option will work just fine, then go with it and save the extra dough!