One tablet to rule them all? Baloney.November 23, 2011: 11:15 AM ET
New devices from Amazon and Barnes & Noble are drawing de-facto comparisons with Apple's iPad. Turns out, the search for the uber-tablet is totally misguided.
FORTUNE -- November may well be remembered as the month the "tablet wars" got more interesting, when Amazon and Barnes & Noble catapulted competitive devices into a waiting and eager market. For the Kindle Fire in particular, media and consumers fixated on the idea that a bonafide "iPad killer" had finally, potentially arrived.
In truth, each tablet has its pros and cons, but to dub one the reigning champ would be to ignore the nuances of a growing market Gartner Research estimates could rake in nearly $29 billion in global sales this year alone. Obviously, the iPad gets many things right -- hardware design, user interface, app ecosystem. It set the tone for the entire market. But a $499 price tag might not appear to be the same bargain it was just six months ago and its 10-inch screen could look oversized next to the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet's smaller, more portable footprints.
Kindle Fire reviews run the gamut, though many agree on one thing: it's a solid device for the money. It does most of what the iPad can do but for less than half the price. Amazon could sell as many as 5 million Kindle Fires this holiday season analyst believe, but more importantly, its tablet succeeds where others have failed, raising our expectations for what a $200 tablet can do. Meanwhile, the Nook Tablet costs $50 more than the Kindle Fire and doesn't offer in-house video and music services, but has its own charms as a reading-focused device with a dollop of multimedia. Forrester predicts Barnes and Noble could move between 1.5 and 2 million units this holiday season.
As TechCrunch columnist MG Siegler wrote recently, the Kindle Fire is just the latest example of people focusing less on technical specifications and more on the user experience. It's not so important what the long list of components on the side of a box says so much as how quickly and smoothly the device inside runs, how easy it is to use and what services it offers. After all, who cares if a smartphone has a quad-core processor running under the hood if the interface running on top of it is sluggish? Looking at the Kindle Fire, and even the Nook Tablet, through the simplified, more pragmatic prism of being "good enough" and affordable, they instantly become better value propositions.
As the tablet industry continues to grow -- 52% on average each year through 2015 -- expect it to diversify, catering to different consumers willing to spend different amounts of money for different sets of features. So a $500 10-inch tablet versus a $200 7-inch tablet may just be the beginning. In that regard, the tablet market could look a lot like the auto industry. Few would say say there's such a thing as "one car fits all." The 2012 Porsche Cayman R may have the best handling for instance, but fall short if you're considering cargo capacity. That's why the idea of the search for one tablet to rule them all may be just plain foolish.