Kindle Fire burns its way through tablet market

2 Dec 2011

The Kindle Fire

Within two weeks of launch, sales of the Amazon Kindle Fire are going to surpass Apple iPad rivals to place the tablet computer in second place in the global media tablet business, according to IHS iSuppli.

Coming up from zero in the third quarter, Amazon will ship 3.9m Kindle Fire tablets during the last three months of 2011, according to a preliminary projection from IHS iSuppli.

This will give the company a 13.8pc share of global media tablet shipments in the fourth quarter, exceeding the 4.8pc held by No 3 Samsung, and second only to Apple’s commanding 65.6pc portion of the market.

The Kindle Fire’s rapid ascent will help fuel the expansion of the entire market, with the additional shipments contributing to a 7.7pc increase in the IHS forecast of total media tablet shipments in 2011.

“Nearly two years after Apple Inc. rolled out the iPad, a competitor has finally developed an alternative which looks like it might have enough of Apple’s secret sauce to succeed,” said Rhoda Alexander, senior manager, tablet and monitor research for IHS.

“Initial market response strongly suggests that Amazon, with the Kindle Fire, has found the right combination of savvy pricing, astute marketing, accessible content and an appropriate business model, positioning the Kindle Fire to appeal to a brand-new set of media tablet buyers. The production plans make it clear that Amazon is betting big on the product.”

Amazon lights a Fire in tablet market

IHS now predicts global media tablet market shipments will amount to 64.7m units in 2011, compared to the previous forecast issued in August of 60m. The total shipment level represents 273pc growth from 17.4m units in 2010.

The forecast for the following years also has been increased, with shipments expected to rise to 287.2m in 2015, up from the previous forecast of 275.3m, as shown in the figure attached.

Sales of the Kindle Fire alone will account for much of the growth in sales. Dramatically reduced pricing in general in the non-Apple portion of the media tablet market also will play a role in expanding sales.

The Kindle Fire has set a new bar for pricing, bringing the media tablet within reach of a larger portion of the buying public.

“At a rock bottom price of US$199 – which is less than the US$201.70 it now costs to make the device – the Kindle Fire has created chaos in the Android tablet market,” Alexander said. “Most other Android tablet makers must earn a profit based on hardware sales alone. In contrast, Amazon plans to use the Kindle Fire to drive sales of physical goods that comprise the majority of the company’s business. As long as this strategy is successful, the company can afford to take a loss on the hardware – while its Android competitors cannot.”

Amazon’s retail strategy

Millions of Kindle owners will be accessing digital content from the site to play on their tablets. Once these users are on the site, Amazon hopes to sell them all kinds of other goods, ranging from shoes to diapers.

Amazon has taken several steps to promote this strategy. Because of this, the company is willing to take a loss on the Kindle Fire hardware – giving it a market leading price point because it is playing the long game and developing a business model that looks beyond the device.

For example, with each purchase of a Kindle Fire, buyers get a free one-month membership to the Amazon Prime service. In addition to offering free access to movies and TV shows, it allows consumers to use the Kindle e-book lending library. Amazon Prime includes free, two-day shipping of millions of items on the company’s site, promoting sales of physical goods on

In another example, Amazon this week announced Amazon Santa, a free tablet app that allows users to create Christmas wish lists of items sold on the site.

Meanwhile, Amazon is bringing to bear its considerable marketing muscle to promote sales of the Kindle Fire.

Apple strikes back?

While Apple remains dominant in the media tablet market, speculation is rife that the company will respond to the Kindle Fire’s aggressive pricing with a lower-cost version of the iPad.

A far more likely scenario is that Apple also may reduce the pricing on the iPad 2 when the company introduces the iPad 3. This will provide a value alternative for entry-level users in the same way that the company continued to offer the iPhone 3 when it rolled out the iPhone 4. This approach would allow Apple to maintain its target profit margins on both the iPad 3 and the iPad 2, while offering end-users an ever-expanding family of products.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years