- The iPad faces stiff competition from the Kindle Fire and Nook tablets next week
- Kindle Fire, priced at $199, may be the most succesful tablet since the iPad
- The full-color 7-inch tablet has access to millions of movies, songs, books and magazines
- Barnes & Noble's $249 Nook tablet may also prove popular
The iPad is one of the most disruptive technologies of the past 5 years. Along with the iPhone, it birthed a new era of touch computing that does away with the mouse and keyboard altogether. And yet the iPad's undisputed dominance of the blossoming tablet market may not last forever. In fact, the iPad is about to get some stiff competition -- finally.
To understand why the iPad dominates the tablet sector is not difficult: Not only was it the first of the new wave of touchscreen tablets, but it's also the most desirable in the eyes of consumers.
The iPhone had a few chinks in its armor early on: It was only available on one network in the U.S., leaving room for competitors to thrive on other networks. This Achilles Heel isn't such a problem for the iPad: Not only is it available on both AT&T and Verizon, but many consumers simply buy the Wi-Fi version, meaning the carrier issue isn't as relevant.
Competitors were also able to best the iPhone, which initially cost at least $499, on price: Cheaper alternatives using Google Android became abundant, especially when carrier subsidies were taken into consideration. And yet rivals to the iPad cost about the same and lack the caché of the original.
If you want something like the iPad, your best choice has been ... the iPad.
Things are about to change, however. Two affordable and promising tablet contenders are going on sale next week.
On Tuesday, Amazon releases its Kindle Fire. For only $199 -- versus $499 for the iPad -- you get a full-color, 7-inch touchscreen tablet. You also get access to a millions of movies, TV shows, songs, books and magazines. Not to mention that Amazon has its own version of Android's app store, and the Kindle Fire comes with a new Web browser that claims to be faster than the competition.
Then on Wednesday comes Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet, which has similar specs as the Kindle Fire but more memory and storage. It's priced at $249 -- half the cost of an iPad.
Of the two, the early favorite to emerge as the iPad's top rival is the Kindle Fire. More than any other competitor, Amazon is able to spar with Apple by controlling all the pieces of the puzzle -- from the device itself to the content that you'll consume on it.
This "end to end" solution mimics Apple's strategy -- it should mean that the user experience is radically better than other iPad alternatives. And while Amazon stops short of running its own operating system -- the tablet runs a modified version of Google's Android -- they've also made changes to the interface that make it feel more holistic.
The fact that Amazon is a major distributor of books, movies, TV shows and music has another huge advantage: The company can afford to take a slight loss on the price of the device (and reportedly does), and make up for it by selling content.
Amazon.com has been pushing the Kindle Fire to its millions of customers, even going so far as to offer free streaming movies and TV shows to all its Amazon Prime customers (as it already does on the Web).
Mark my words: The Amazon Kindle Fire will be the most successful tablet device since the iPad. Five hundred dollars is a steep price to pay for many tablet-craving consumers, but paying $200 for a similar device is comparatively painless.
In fact, a research firm surveyed 2,600 consumers to gauge interest in the new tablet and found that pre-launch demand for the Kindle Fire is higher than demand for the iPad before its launch.
Don't get me wrong: I don't think the Kindle Fire is better than the iPad. I do think, however, that the mass market is far more price sensitive than the early-adopter crowd. At the very least, the Kindle Fire is set to become the world's second-most popular tablet.
At that price, I wouldn't even bet against the Fire dethroning the iPad as the market leader.