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Will the Kindle Fire come to the UK?
On 28 September, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos pulled off his best impersonation yet of his former arch-rival Steve Jobs.
In open-necked shirt, Bezos calmly and confidently unveiled the Kindle Fire - a stunningly cheap Android tablet that could pull the rug out from under Apple's iPad. But, straight after the conference, it was announced that the tablet wasn't coming to the UK any time soon. Why? Read on to find out more...
The Kindle Fire, which launches in the US this week, is a stunning piece of kit at a stunning price. It's a seven-inch, smaller-than-iPad Android tablet. Whereas previous Kindles have been black-and-white e-readers, this, toting a heavily modified version of the Android Gingerbread 2.3 operating system, is the full-touchscreen, full-colour deal.
The good stuff? A 16-million colour, Gorilla Glass, 1024 x 600 resolution LCD touchscreen with higher pixel density than the iPad 2 (169 pixels per inch versus 132); a 1GHz dual-core Texas Instruments processor; light 413g weight (190mm x 120mm x 11.4mm form factor) and 802.11n wi-fi and USB connectivity.
There's also free cloud storage for all, approximately seven-hour in-use battery life with wi-fi, the Amazon Silk browser (which predicts which pages you want to look at and uses Amazon server power to pre-load them to you) and, of course, excellent connectivity into Amazon's systems and storefronts (with a free month of the Amazon Prime fast-shipping, video-streaming service and a reduced annual fee for the service of $79).
So, what does all this good stuff cost? A frankly jaw-dropping $199 (£125 at direct exchange rate)! Stack that up against the BlackBerry Playbook, one of the cheaper tablets around, at £249 - or the iPad 2, which starts at £399.
The corners cut to get that rug-pulling price? There's no 3G connectivity; no camera or microphone; a mere 6GB storage available to users (Amazon maintains this won't matter as all your stuff will be fine in its 'cloud'); and no direct access to Android Marketplace due to the heavily modified operating system.
But in the US the signs are that, because of that sizzling-hot price, the Amazon Fire will be this Christmas' blazing-hot ticket (ahem). Research firm eDataSource recently stated that Amazon had garnered half a million pre-orders of the Fire by 28 October, while over a million units have been sold through to retail partners. Analysts are predicting sales of around three million by the end of the year.
What's bad news for Apple is that some of those sales are gadget nuts switching allegiance from the iPad. A ChangeWave survey of 2,600 'early adopters' revealed 5% had either already pre-ordered the Fire or were "very likely" to. And over a quarter of those pre-ordering stated they would then delay any purchase of an iPad, or not go ahead at all. That's a boost for Amazon - and it will be interesting to see Apple facing serious competition in the tablet market for the first time. But why no love for the UK?
Simply put, Amazon's aim of being a truly global company just doesn't quite currently stack up. Amazon, for instance, only launched a Chinese online bookstore at the end of September, having struck a deal with the state-owned China International Publishing Group. And the third generation of the original keyboard-toting Kindle e-reader, launched as recently as the latter half of 2010, was English-language only. This despite the US market alone featuring significant proportions of people who speak, read and write Spanish primarily (35+ million people according to 2009 census data). While Amazon has no such language issues with the UK, it does of course with Europe. And even in the UK, we are still to see many of the services that Amazon.com hosts rolled out here.
Part of the problem is that, as Amazon has expanded from selling physical media such as books, CDs and DVDs to include digital downloads, the issue of rights has reared its ugly head. Amazon must negotiate rights to digital downloads and streaming services with many individual providers in each country - to ensure its storefront is well stocked.
So, while native UK streaming services such as BBC iPlayer and 4oD TV are widely available on all sorts of consumer kit, we're still to see the dominant US streaming TV and movie service, Netflix, arrive in the UK (it's rumoured for early 2012, finally). Of course, it's not just Netflix. Each service Amazon offers in the US that isn't yet available in the UK or Europe is a headache. Amazon needs to get its UK, European and global houses in order - including rolling out services such as its cloud storage and the full version of Amazon Prime - before we get the Fire in the UK.
But in the US it looks as if the Kindle Fire has attracted enough heat to ensure it will be well supported. Amazon Kindle vice-president Dave Lamp has boasted: "In addition to over 18 million movies, TV shows, songs, books, and magazines from Amazon, we are excited to offer customers thousands of apps and games to choose from on Kindle Fire." The apps include Netflix, Facebook, Twitter and a raft of games from mobile frontrunners such as Gameloft, Electronic Arts, Zynga and Rovio. So, if the tablet sells well over there, and its providers are happy, then we should see them heading our way... eventually.
The same problem meant the roll-out of the original iPhone was slow - with network deals taking time to ink. But Apple managed to release the iPhone in the US on 29 June 2007, then 9 November for UK and Germany, and a year later it was in 54 key countries. So, Amazon needs to pull its finger out and get on with signing those content deals - and bring the Kindle Fire over here urgently.
Why the rush? Because the horrible exchange rate pricing policies of companies importing to the UK mean we remain one of the pricier places to buy a tablet. And there's precious little competition still in the marketplace to tempt consumers away from those eye-wateringly expensive iPads. The Kindle Fire also represents a massive move away from Apple's idea of tablets - hopefully opening up the market to more consumers, who wouldn't have dreamed of paying Apple's premium price.
"The Fire is a different device than the iPad, with different functionality and a different price point," Michael Gartenberg, research director at Gartner told Wired.com. "The two can coexist."
Amazon really does need to spread the Fire worldwide and fast, though. [An estimated] "50% of iPad sales in 2011 will come from outside the US, and in 2012 it will be even more," Sarah Rotman Epps, senior analyst at Forrester Research, told Wired.com. "Amazon is leaving a lot on the table by not bringing this out as a global product."
Perhaps Amazon is waiting for early next year and the rumoured version two of the Fire. According to sources who spoke to gdgt.com's Ryan Block, the second Fire - a more direct competitor to the iPad could come as early as the first quarter of 2012.
What do you think? Would you buy the Kindle Fire if it was available in the UK? Let us know in the comments below.