There is no argument that the iPad is the better product, but is it 2.5 times better than the Kindle Fire? I think the real telling tale will be given that this is a tight gift giving year, folks that are buying will find being able to get two Kindle Fires and have a $100 left over for something else will be the more compelling opportunity. Then again on spec, the Asus Transformer, based on the powerful Tegra 3 processor, slam dunks both these products on performance for around the same price as the iPad.
In short, your choice could be a really smart or a really stupid decision depending on what happens, so let’s explore this question this week.
Specs Are Dead
There is a rather compelling argument posted on the idea that specs are dead. In the linked piece, Siegler argues that Consumer Reports, which focuses heavily on Specs, is obsolete and that people buy based on user experience and not on specs. I agree with parts of this but the handy thing about Consumer Reports isn’t the specs but the failure rates of the products. If you want a specification review I think the tech publications do it better, but fully agree that the user experience rules overall.
This is one of the things that made Apple unique in that Steve Jobs personally assured the user experience and balanced that against the cost of the product. Apple’s products often cost a bit more but the experience was generally better until he figured out how to lock up large quantities of parts at discounted prices and was able to have competitively priced offerings that still had a better user experience, which is why Apple’s iPhones and iPads have dominated when folks have equal access.
The iPad Risk
However, over the years in interviewing folks that gave alternative products one thing is clear; and that is that the recipient was disappointed. If someone wanted an iPod and didn’t get it, there were few excuses that they would accept that would overcome this disappointment. There has been one solid rule when it came to purchases of Apple like products and that is that, if they ask for it by name, give it to them unless you want to disappoint them.
One other thing about Apple products is that it is best if you buy them from Apple because then you can get it engraved and Apple tends to favor their own stores during shortages, which means your loved one is more likely to actually get it on time. Given discounts on Apple products are rare anywhere, this has historically proven to the best choice.
This time around there is one high powered Tablet that could give the iPad a run for the money in the premium space and that is the Tegra 3 powered Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime. With a 5 core CPU and a 12 core GPU, this may be the most powerful tablet in market this year. I haven’t had a chance to test this but loved its predecessor even though I thought it was a bit slow and wasn’t a fan of Honeycomb. Since this product has the more powerful technology and should quickly be updated to the Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android, I expect this version to be the more interesting alternative. Advantages will be better games and a much better keyboard option and it is clearly distinctive against an iPad world, and the disadvantages are that it lacks the Apple back end and their white-glove, in-store customer support experience. I personally would rather have this product but I’d be leery of giving it to anyone who wasn’t a tech lover.
Kindle Fire Alternative
Here is the deal on the Kindle Fire. It isn’t as useful as the iPad but when it comes to content Amazon has one of the best back ends in the business. They have flat-rate streamed moves like Netflix (and it will run Netflix), they have the Kindle reader app (as does Apple and others), and this product is designed to be a front end to the Amazon store (which means if you are giving this as a gift you want to make sure it isn’t hitting your personal account). The product is smaller and lighter than an iPad and the price is $199 or at one of the most powerful price breaks points, the one below $200.
This means that for every two iPads you could give, for the same money you could give 5 Kindle Fires. Amazon takes a subset of the Android applications and you can’t side load it, which makes it more secure than most other Android tablets. In short, it does most of the major things the iPad does, it is more portable, less attractive to a thief and it’s less traumatic if it gets broken (so particularly good for kids and clumsy adults).
Wrapping Up: Use is Key
The iPad, and particularly the Asus Transformer, are drifting into the consumption space currently occupied by laptop computers; the Fire is a consumption device only. It is arguably better for movies and music because it is lighter, more portable, and, since you can put it in your pocket (big pocket) or purse, less likely to be left behind. Tablets aren’t great readers and none of these, including the Fire, is an exception, if folks like to read any one of the black and white Kindles would be better and they generally are far cheaper. But they shine for comic books and magazines.
So breaking it down – If they are ultra-geeks and want the closest thing to a laptop experience, the Asus Transformer is the best choice, if they love all things Apple or are simply in love with the iPad or you want the least risk, that is likely your safest bet, and if you are on a budget and all they want is something to entertain them the Kindle Fire is likely your best choice.
Of the product, largely thanks to the aggressive price, I think the Kindle Fire could (in the US) actually outsell the iPad, but given the iPad’s popularity, I think it is a long shot. It really goes after a different use case though and, should it win, it will showcase that once again a well-priced product that does a few things well can outpace a higher priced all-in-one offering. Wait, isn’t that how the iPod won?
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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