Long before the Kindle Fire ever went on sale, Amazon’s $200 tablet was a massive hit. Pre-order projections have surpassed the million-device mark, and hype is at an all-time high. Now all Amazon needs is a large cache of apps to take on competing markets.
Though the company’s Appstore has some catching up to do, all of the Fire’s pre-release fervor could be stoking the flames of software development. Indeed, in a recently released survey, the Kindle Fire received top marks for developer interest, attracting the most support from North American coders.
Forty-nine percent of the some 2,100 participants polled claimed interest in developing for the Fire, according to the survey conducted by IDC Research and Appcelerator. The Fire slightly edged out the Samsung Galaxy Tab for the top Android tablet spot. Other competitors came in far behind, with the Xoom ranked at 37 percent interest, and the Barnes & Noble Nook at 24 percent.
However small a lead in developer interest the Fire has over Samsung, it speaks volumes about the potential for Amazon’s app environment. Like Google and Apple, Amazon aims to create its own robust app ecosystem, edging out other Android tablet competition with a vertical integration strategy much akin to Apple’s: Own the hardware, own the Appstore. And though the Fire is powered by Google’s Android OS, Amazon basically owns the OS as well thanks to its dramatic interface customizations.
While the Kindle Fire is indeed built atop the Android operating system, it isn’t what one would consider a traditional Android tablet. For one, it doesn’t come loaded with any of Google’s proprietary apps — no Maps, no YouTube, no Gmail. Even more telling, Android Market is conspicuously absent.
There’s a good reason for that. Amazon wants you to use its Appstore for all of your application needs, a strategy that pulls customers further into Amazon’s universe.
Coding for Amazon, however, is not as simple as slapping an app together and launching it in the store. Developers are required to go through a submission process somewhat akin to Apple’s, essentially applying for a spot in Amazon’s media library by adhering to strict guidelines. It’s a far cry from the traditional Android Market approval process — or should we say, the complete lack thereof.
This makes the 49 percent developer interest stat all the more telling: The coding community is raring to go despite the requirement that they jump through extra hoops to get apps inside.
And there’s a nice side benefit to all of this interest: Support for Amazon’s Appstore could help bolster the Android platform as a whole.
“The Kindle Fire is also a good thing for the Android ecosystem because people will actually buy this device,” wrote Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps in a recent email, comparing the Kindle’s potential success to the sales flops of other recent Android tablets. “This will spur developers to create apps for it, which they can then port over to other Android devices.”
Despite the initial fervor, developers retained a healthy amount of skepticism prior to the tablet’s debut. The lack of certain common tablet features — like cameras and geo-location components — have some potential Amazon courtiers worried, as does the possibility of further ecosystem fragmentation.
But users looking for a tablet device on the cheap are ready to make concessions — as the projected pre-order numbers clearly show — and losing accoutrements like cameras and extra on-board storage isn’t a deal-breaker. And as Rotman Epps said, fragmentation isn’t necessarily a major issue, as apps made for Amazon’s store can be ported over to the Android Market with minimal effort.
Poised on the brink of the holiday season, it’s a perfect opportunity for Amazon to pounce on the masses of would-be tablet adopters put off by Apple’s pricey pad. Especially when demand for the iPad could actually be waning, according to Goldman Sachs analyst Bill Shope, who claims Apple is long “overdue” for a tablet price cut.
It’s high time for a competitor to dethrone Apple’s market dominance, and on paper, Amazon looks to be in the best position to do it. Now the question is, will the Kindle Fire’s hardware be up to snuff? Some are singing its praises, while we weren’t terribly impressed. As the first devices arrive on doorsteps as soon as tomorrow, the market will let us know soon enough.