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Fire vs. iPad: Pick Your Garden

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Sep 29, 2011 5:00 AM PT

Starting at a mind-warping US$199, the new Amazon Kindle Fire tablet has nailed a price point that the $249 Barnes & Noble Nook Color was only able to flirt with. Put it this way: As a consumer-oriented device ready to deliver e-books, movies, TV shows, apps, Web browsing and email, two Kindle Fire tablets can be purchased for $100 less than the $499 Apple iPad 2.

Fire vs. iPad: Pick Your Garden

It took me all of 10 minutes to decide to put one in my shopping cart.

Hello, holiday gift-buying season!

The point is, I firmly believe that a good number (millions) of people want all the core media consumption benefits of an iPad 2 without the price. Sure, lots of tech-savvy people use the iPad to travel with for work purposes, connecting to corporate email and manipulating spreadsheets and presentations, using it for fancy corporate performance management dashboards.

And they use it for movies, e-books, and TV, too.

For most consumers, though, I do think it's fair to say that the Kindle Fire covers more than half the core functionality of Apple's iPad 2 at less than the half the price.

If your primary act of tablet using would be a) media consumption, b) Web browsing, and c) email, I'm having a hard time seeing where the Kindle Fire would fail.

Consider, the Kindle Fire seems to have a fast processor, a quick browser experience, and a book and movie-friendly wide-screen or page-reading size. What's not to like?

Whoa, Back Up the Bandwagon!

The Kindle Fire, of course, raises the question: Would you rather have a Kindle Fire or an iPad 2? At first glance, I'd say iPad 2, hands down. But really, it's not so easy. With the tidy price point, the dollar savings is significant.

And yet, it turns out the iPad 2 might really be astoundingly more functional. With the iPad 2, you get the option to use a cellular service provider for data. The Fire? Not at all -- it's WiFi only. If you're a traveler, you know that while WiFi is all over the place, often enough, it's not where you are or want to be.

It doesn't have a camera. Why is that a big deal? It's not, really, because who takes photos with their clumsy iPads? Oh, it happens, but not enough to matter to me. And yet, what does matter? FaceTime. The Fire has no camera, and worse yet, no microphone, so not only is video conferencing with friends, family, or co-workers out of the question, Skype and other VoIP calling options won't work, either -- at least, not without some sort of accessory, which would effectively drive up the cost.

While the low-end iPad 2 doesn't have a built-in GPS unit, other models do, making the iPad quite handy for location-related apps, maps and navigation.

It's the Battle of the Ecosystems

In many ways, though, I think the decision to buy a Fire or an iPad 2 (or 3) will come down to price first. For many of my friends and relatives, I could not, in good conscience, recommend that they shell out $500+ for an iPad. They just don't have enough need to justify the cost. On the other hand, a Kindle Fire boasts a slick interface and implementation and it comes from a company with great customer satisfaction rates. Mobile media consumption is critical to Amazon's future, so they're going to throw a lot of effort into the product.

But buying a Kindle Fire also means that you're willing to buy into Amazon's walled garden of content. If you go in, you'll probably be happy, but if you're not, it's a losing proposition. The same goes for iOS and Apple's App Stores and iTunes world. TV shows and movies have to live on Apple products, and while songs can be portable, apps are not. Once you become invested, it's hard to walk away from all your content. The same stickiness goes with Android, too. Once in, it's hard to switch.

So while I like the Kindle, and while I'm a happy Amazon customer, I hesitate. I haven't bought into the whole cloud storage model for everyday tablet computing yet. Having my songs available in the cloud ... kind of cool, but if you have plenty of storage on your iPhone and iPad anyway, it's not a big deal. Besides, with Apple's iCloud on the way, the current Amazon cloud storage edge will be erased by the time the Fire actually ships on Nov. 15. All my TV shows are already available for anytime streaming on my my Apple TV, for example -- even the ones I bought three years ago and have since deleted.

And speaking of the Apple TV, when iOS 5 is ready, I'll be able to show anything on my iPad 2 screen on my living room HDTV. That's wicked cool. AirPlay in an instant. Video, apps, photos, e-books for kids.

While I can watch 10,000 Amazon Prime videos -- TV and movies streamed, kind of like Netflix -- on my living room HDTV, I also have to buy a different set-top box. Not a deal killer, but it represents a new investment.

Of course, with the Amazon Prime service, which gives customers free two-day shipping on many Amazon-sold products, I can quickly buy physical products and never leave my house without having to factor in hefty shipping charges.

Amazon is working hard to capture -- and keep -- your attention.

Pick Your Garden

All-in-all, the Kindle Fire looks to be a damn fine device. The price is right, so Amazon has removed that barrier. So why haven't I pre-ordered the Kindle Fire yet? After all, it's in my shopping cart.

I'm not sure I want to fracture my mobile iOS ecosystem, and with no Kindle mobile phone option, I'll be happily tied to the iPhone world for years to come. So buying into a Kindle Fire means that I'll have a split mobile personality between Amazon and Apple.

Sorry, Amazon, I'm not quite ready to make that leap -- definitely not before I hear about what Apple has in store for us next week at its media event Oct. 4.

MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at

Rakuten Super Logistics
Is "too much screen time" really a problem?
Yes -- smartphone addiction is ruining relationships.
Yes -- but primarily due to parents' failure to regulate kids' use.
Possibly -- long-term effects on health are not yet known.
Not really -- lack of self-discipline and good judgement are the problems.
No -- angst over "screen time" is just the latest overreaction to technology.
No -- what matters is the quality of content, not the time spent viewing it.