As of yesterday morning, Amazon is accepting pre-orders for the Kindle Touch (Wi-Fi or 3G) in the major European markets (the UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy) for around the same price as the Kindle Keyboard used to sell for — although it will cost more than the later, non-keyboard non-touch device Kindle (naming conventions are not, apparently, Amazon’s strong point!).
The ‘new’ devices have been available in the US since mid-November 2011, so they’re heading to Europe some 6 months later; this is good for most markets except the UK, where the Kindle Keyboard launched at much the same time as in the US.
The Touch has slightly more memory than some of the older devices, is smaller than the Kindle Keyboard, and — of course — has an infrared touchscreen. It’s a nice device with the same excellent screen and battery life, and it continues to be a proof point for single application devices that really excel. However, these devices are looking increasingly expensive when one can buy an (admittedly not great) 7-inch or 10-inch Android tablet for about the same price. And while device manufacturers like Sony and Kobo aren’t offering high-profile competitive devices in Europe to match the Barnes & Noble Nook in the US, they do offer perfectly competent — or even better, depending on how firmly you buy in to Amazon’s ecosystem — e-Ink readers at a variety of price points.
Perhaps the biggest question for tech-conscious consumers though is this: “Where’s the Kindle Fire?” This was announced at the same time as the Touch in the US and also started shipping there in mid-November. I think that Europeans will have to wait quite a bit longer for the Kindle Fire, and here’s why:
While the Fire is Amazon’s future, it does quite nicely with e-Ink devices. Here’s a question for you: Is Amazon more like Google or Apple? With regards to devices, Amazon’s business model is far more Google-like; while they both make devices (or support partner manufacturers), they are really interested in the content and your connection to it — either selling it to you (Amazon) or selling advertising around it (Google). In contrast, Apple has built a compelling ecosystem, including content offerings, but it is still really about selling you that next device. While Amazon makes money from Kindles (both the Touch and the Fire), the real margins are in what it sells you to put on it. If you use an iPad, Android tablet, or PC to download music, e-books, and video from Amazon, its margins from you are higher than for those people to whom it sold a device as well. Confused? Let me explain with a hypothetical example:
- John buys a Kindle Fire for $200 (Amazon margin: 20%) and buys $200 of content (Amazon margin: 35%). Total profit margin from John’s purchases: 27.5%.
- David uses his iPad and buys $200 of content from Amazon. Total profit margin from David’s purchase: 35%.
Amazon might have made more dollars in profit from John, but the content is infinitely resellable for no extra effort — devices aren’t.
So why is Amazon in the devices business at all? David’s example above gives a clear indication: he may buy e-books from Amazon now, but he’ll almost certainly buy his music, videos, and apps from iTunes. Amazon doesn’t want to be locked out further down the line, hence the Fire. Will Europe have to wait another 6 months for the Fire? Other than the iPad, there is no compelling device to take its place, so it probably will. But, tech-conscious consumers may choose to hold off on buying a Kindle Touch and wait for the Fire, luckily for Amazon its more mainstream consumers that buy e-ink Kindles.
The supporting infrastructure isn’t in place. I’ve touched on this before; the Kindle Fire draws on Amazon’s back-end cloud infrastructure (as does the new Touch) for storage and web browsing support (Amazon Silk). Rolling this out internationally means a significant investment in data centers and legal clearances. This is easier with the Touch, as you are only looking at e-books — most of which Amazon sold you in the first place. The data centers will come, given Amazon’s cloud investments for its business-to-business offerings, but it will take time. One obvious alternative would be to launch the Fire without these cloud facilities — but this lessens both the utility of the device (limiting storage) and how tied in customers are to Amazon.
We’re still waiting for the Android tablet market to shake out. The Kindle Fire is already one of the best-selling Android tablets, but this market still lacks focus (and decent margins). Court cases, form-factor debates, and telcos (particularly in Europe) that are still smarting from the last subsidy disaster (mainly the Samsung Galaxy 10) mean that Amazon can afford to take its time and get its device (and ecosystem) right. Additionally, Windows tablets (on x86 or ARM) are still at least 6 to 9 months away and will be much more expensive than Amazon’s current or proposed devices.
My best guess is that the UK may see the Kindle Fire in late Q2 or early Q3, as Amazon has traditionally used the UK as a European launch pad; Germany and France may follow by year-end. Because of the data center restrictions, it’s possible that other, smaller markets may never get the device in its present form.