Analysis: How the Kindle Fire is killing Google's tablet hopes

Even the most die-hard Android fan would struggle to define Google's tablet strategy as a success. Disclosures this week in the Google vs. Oracle trial revealed the company's lofty ambitions for the tablet space, and while it hasn't yet made available any recent sales or revenue data for its Android tablets, most observers agree that so far, it's likely failed to meet its objectives.

While Apple continues to overwhelmingly dominate the tablet space with its one-size-fits-all iPad (albeit with both a new and ‘old', cheaper version concurrently on sale), the multiplicity of Android tablets on the market from numerous manufacturers hasn't yet helped Google to capture a significant chunk of market share.

In an interesting twist, though, it's emerged that Google's Android market share isn't entirely its own, as figures from market analysts comScore (via PR Newswire) reveal that, as of February 2012, Amazon's Kindle Fire had grabbed an impressive 54.4% of Android tablet market share.

Why is this significant? Well, the Kindle Fire doesn't use Android in the strictest sense. At its heart, the OS is based on Android 2.3 Gingerbread, but Amazon ripped out just about everything that it could. More than just the kind of custom user interface overlay that you'd see on other Android devices - such as HTC's Sense UI or Samsung's TouchWiz - the Kindle Fire user experience is built entirely around Amazon's own services, actively restricting and excluding access to services like Google's Play Store for apps and music.

As a result, Google's services simply don't get a look-in on the Kindle Fire, which instead features Amazon's own offerings - buying apps, browsing the web, watching video, downloading music, buying e-books and all the other stuff you might want to do on your Fire, is designed first and foremost around what Amazon has to offer you.

This means that Kindle Fire sales do little to enhance Google's bottom line; in fact, if anything, each purchase of a low-priced Kindle Fire is a thorn in the side of both Google and its 'mainstream' Android partners - it's one missed sale of higher-priced Android tablet hardware for Samsung, Motorola et.al; and one less opportunity for Google to generate revenue from a user of its suite of software and services.

More worrying still for Google is that the Kindle Fire's share of the Android market has been growing at a phenomenal rate - comScore's data show that the Fire almost doubled its slice of Android's pie in just two months, shooting up from 29.4% to the most recent figure of 54.4%.

Google will of course be focused on growing the size of the overall pie, not just maintaining its portion of it. But if the only way that the Android market grows significantly is through Kindle Fire sales, it ultimately won't matter very much to Google how big that pie is: its relatively meagre slice will continue to leave it with a very bitter taste.

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26 Comments

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What's interesting is looking at the ones that are staying constant or growing as well.

You could make a reasonable guess that there are 2x as many Kindle Fires out now as there were 2 months ago, if the Asus Transformer is holding steady at just over 6%, it's actually steadily selling more as well. It's growing to match the growth of Android tablet sales overall (ignoring the Nook Color & Tablet as mentioned above), including how the Kindle Fire is boosting things up. Only the Lenovo IdeaPad K1 and Sony Tablet S are also holding steady or growing.

That does give some useful information. The Transformer form factor appeals to people, getting the best of both worlds, Android just doesn't let them leverage it. A Windows 8 Transformer, particularly one based on Ivy Bridge is going to be a much better seller.

The K1 comes in at the same price as the original Tansformer, showing the other significant bit is being able to undercut the price of the iPad. The transformer offers an innovative form factor and cost savings, the K1 just cost savings. The Kindle shows huge cost savings.

Consumers want a transformer, and much more they want cheaper than the iPad.

with windows 8 on the wings it is simply too little too late for android tablets. amazon in one corner, Microsoft on another and ipad on top. google stands no chance. and that's fine with me as the less google controls the better for everybody

I think that tablets in general be it the iPad or the Kindle Fire(I have both), have been relegated to being entertainment devices. Neither are really useful for getting any real work done. The reason they are enjoyed however is that you truly can take your entertainment on the go and for quick messaging, web access, and basic productivity. I've been using the Windows 8 Consumer preview exclusively on my laptop and while I think its as good or better than either iOS or Android, it has its quirks. We'll have to see the release candidate, but it is definitely superior in almost every respect to either Android and iOS. Other than the App catalogs I think MS is on the right track. We just have to see how battery life and functionality will be with the final versions of tablet devices.

Und3rgr0undW1r3 said,
The Kindle Fire is great but I prefer the Nook Tablet because there are more ePub books "available" .

I beg to differ on that, and also, there are ways to read epub in their native format (ie: no conversion required)... I use Aldiko as an epub reader on my Kindle Fire.

Und3rgr0undW1r3 said,
The Kindle Fire is great but I prefer the Nook Tablet because there are more ePub books "available" .

And do you have any idea how much fanfiction (some of which is quite stellar) is available in MOBI format (which is the format that Kindle uses)? Given a choice between MOBI and PDF for actually *reading* fanfiction, I prefer MOBI - even on Windows; it's rather embarrassing for me, as I also write fanfiction (largely in Microsoft Word) and self-publish (in both Word and PDF); if I could convert bertween either and MOBI freely, I would. (And no, I don't own a Kindle - yet; it's on my list, just way the heck DOWN the list.)

PGHammer said,

And do you have any idea how much fanfiction (some of which is quite stellar) is available in MOBI format (which is the format that Kindle uses)? Given a choice between MOBI and PDF for actually *reading* fanfiction, I prefer MOBI - even on Windows; it's rather embarrassing for me, as I also write fanfiction (largely in Microsoft Word) and self-publish (in both Word and PDF); if I could convert bertween either and MOBI freely, I would. (And no, I don't own a Kindle - yet; it's on my list, just way the heck DOWN the list.)

Not into Fanfiction

Well if you risk the warrenty of yout fire, you can always load up a copy of CM7 or there is a almost full functioning copy of ICS. The ICS has a few bugs but most are in my option minor. Then you get a full android experence on a pretty good device for the price.

Fatzo757 said,
Then you get a full android experence on a pretty good device for the price.
Can you still run all of the Amazon apps after you install CM?

I believe you are comparing apples to oranges. The things you can do on an Android tablet surpass most of the functionality of the Kindle.

the420kid said,
I believe you are comparing apples to oranges. The things you can do on an Android tablet surpass most of the functionality of the Kindle.

The Kindle Fire is an Android tablet ... so I'm not sure what specifics you had in mind there.

that is just U.S. market share. but it's not worldwide representative, as amazon does not have any significant business outside U.S. so it's not in Top 5 of Android tablets. Samsung, Acer and Asus rules on worldwide scale.

lol What do you mean Amazon has no significant business outside US?? You probably mean the Kindle Fire, which is hardly sold anywhere else but in the US. Not unlike Amazon in general

In doing a comparison like this the market shares are not important, it is the growth of each. This would suggest the Tab family is dying, however it is not, it is growing.

All these states show is the low cost market is growing quicker than the high end. This means there is a market there which is open for competition and justifies Google's opinion to chase this segment with the expect Pad release come up soon as opposed to chasing the high end where Apple and Samsung are dueling it out.

With Google is rumoured to be working on a subsidised tablet for release this year it will be interesting to see how the Fire fares.

Jarrichvdv said,
Wow, I didn't knew the Kindle Fire was that popular

The "bang for the buck" with the KF makes it a rather compelling solution. I absolutely LOVE my KF. The wife liked mine so much she went and bought one for herself.

Bought my wife a Kindle fire because she loves reading and buys stuff from Amazon. It was cool because since I bought it online from Amazon, they pre-configured it to her Amazon account, so when she got it all she had to do was confirm the settings and her password when she first powered it on and it had already been set up with her account. She loves it, and takes it everywhere, and I've even found myself playing Angry Birds on it while we're out and about, :-) It really is an awesome device.

I kinda predicted that Kindle Fire will rise among all Tablets. They are a great company, and if you have an Amazon Account already, you have instant access to Amazon App Store and its wide range of books and apps!

They've always done this from the start with the standard Kindle's, but you're right, something that probably takes very little effort for them to do is a great feature, especially for people who aren't that technical.

It's a feature that a lot of people tell other people about and must have resulted in sales for them.

thenonhacker said,
I kinda predicted that Kindle Fire will rise among all Tablets. They are a great company, and if you have an Amazon Account already, you have instant access to Amazon App Store and its wide range of books and apps!

The Kindle fire is simply building on the momentum gained over the years from the other Kindle E-books. Samsung etc haven't built on anything, Windows 8 tablets could do well because it will allow Laptop and PC makers to adjust to the new OS just making small changes allowing them to build on the reputation their products already have.

thenonhacker said,
I kinda predicted that Kindle Fire will rise among all Tablets. They are a great company, and if you have an Amazon Account already, you have instant access to Amazon App Store and its wide range of books and apps!

And like Amazon accounts (non-Prime) are that hard to get - I have one, and have bought exactly zip from Amazon. The Kindle format is not *just* used by Amazon, either - consider how much fanfiction (which costs exactly nit) is *also* available in the semi-proprietary, though free, Kindle MOBI format (not to mention that the Kindle e-reader software for PCs/Macs will sync even those free e-books with your Kindle - any Kindle (including the Fire)). So you're not as limited with even the Fire as you (or Google, naturally) would like you to think.