What happens when the Kindle Fire costs $0?
My coworkers often laugh at me because of the number of Amazon.com boxes I receive. I buy everything from books to toilet paper to golfballs from the site. It’s possible that I’m the company’s single best customer.
So it might surprise you to hear that I haven’t purchased a Kindle Fire yet. Why? The answer’s pretty simple: I know it’s going to get better. And cheaper. And it will head in both of those directions quickly. So why not wait for the next one?
If you’ve purchased one of the other non-iPad tablet devices on the market, you may be the only one who has. They are each (in some order) thicker, heavier, slower, duller, or just generally crappier than their iPad competitor. Having a down-market product is fine in and of itself, but the companies then seem to exacerbate the problem by having prices that seem to imply a lack of simple logic (case in point). Remember, the iPad starts at $499.
But clearly the Kindle Fire will be different, because Jeff Bezos and company have no interest in charging a premium price for a product that they essentially expect to be a virtual USPS mailbox for their growing inventory of digital goods. Amazon worries about the long-term only and, as the NY Times noted, they actually mean it.
So while the question, “What happens when the Kindle Fire costs $0?” may include a bit of hyperbole, it’s not hard to imagine a day when the Kindle Fire: (1) has progressed to being a truly capable tablet that covers 90% of the iPad’s functions capably, and (2) costs a trivial sum, maybe $49 or $79. What happens then?
If we’re to believe Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma and expect this market to follow other technology markets in history, Apple and the iPad will not be able to simply innovate with ‘sustaining’ features that incrementally drive the state of the art forward. Apple will need to continue to introduce disruptive innovation into the tablet market just to compete with their lower-price, down-market competitors.
In other words, a slightly better browser, camera, or email application won’t be enough to fend off the Kindle tidal wave. It will need to be marrying the iPad with a hovercraft skateboard, a frisbee, or maybe a hot plate stovetop (don’t laugh, think about how handy that would be!). Jokes of course, but you get the idea. It is a lot to ask, but Apple has been developing magical products for quite a while now, so perhaps the disruptive innovation will continue.
In either case, I’m bullish on Amazon’s prospects in moving to win the non-iPad segment of the tablet market. If I see another $499 tablet from any number of poor Apple competitors, I’ll lose my mind.