The latest word from the Wall Street Journal is that Amazon is planning to come out with a $50 6” version of its Kindle Fire tablets. From the standpoint of getting tablets into more hands, this could be a smart idea. But will it work or flop?
Cheap Android tablets have been a reality for a while. For instance, I heard about the ZeePad back in 2012, and bought one and gave it a review. It wasn’t all that great, especially compared to later inexpensive-but-quality tablets like the Nook HD. But even as the price point of “cheap” has fallen (in some cases considerably), Amazon has tended to stay around the $100 mark at a minimum—and not necessarily by preference.
Indeed, Amazon’s Fire devices have generally been a good deal from a hardware standpoint, given that Amazon tends to eschew profit on hardware devices in favor of making money on content. Give away the razor, sell the blades. If Amazon hasn’t been able to shrink its prices to the $50 mark yet, it’s not been for lack of trying.
But it’s trying now. While the Wall Street Journal sounds all alarmed about what Amazon might be giving up to reach the price point, I don’t expect they’ll have too much trouble. After all, given how cheap some of the Chinese OEMs are getting by this point, Amazon can probably attain $50 without cutting too many corners—and the corners they do cut, like throwing in a mono speaker instead of stereo, probably won’t be too off-putting. (Why use the speaker anyway when you can hook up stereo headphones?)
I think the bigger problem Amazon might have is the one it’s had with all its hardware to date. It’s not really general-purpose, though it tries to pretend to be. It’s not plain-vanilla Android, given that it doesn’t offer direct access to Google apps or services, but tries to keep people within the Amazon ecosystem.
But on the other hand, is that really such a problem? My aunt and uncle have Amazon Fire tablets and seem to like them a lot. They’re not really technical users, but they are satisfied Amazon customers. And it might well be that a lot of Amazon customers would feel the same way.
I’m not prepared to call this a failure along the same order as the Fire Phone. Amazon shows no sign of ceasing to make its Fire tablets, and indeed, this 6” device is part of a line-up of all-new tablets for next year, including a 10-inch device. So they must be doing well enough with their intended demographic.
And don’t discount the power of the Amazon brand name. Ecosystem or not, Amazon by and large has a reputation for making decent hardware. If someone can get a $50 tablet with the Amazon brand name on it, not made by some Chinese vendor they’ve never heard of, they might be ready to forgive a few shortcomings if the device by-and-large just works okay. It could be a great “disposable” tablet for kids who are too old for the “Kids” version of the Fire, but not old enough to be trusted with more expensive hardware. It could also appeal to people who want to try out the Amazon ecosystem but don’t want to sink $100 or more into doing so. But $50 isn’t a bad price at all.