Amazon is expected to launch a new version of its 7in Kindle Fire tablet on Thursday 6 September, after chief executive Jeff Bezos claimed that the product was “sold out” – though the latter claim has been challenged by Jon Erlichman of Bloomberg TV.
Analysts estimate that from figures announced by Bezos, in all between 5m and 6m Kindle Fires – which are fully functional tablet computers, unlike the black-and-white Kindle e-reader – have been shipped sold in the US since its launch.
The online retailer will hold a media event in Santa Monica, California, where a new version of the tablet is anticipated. Bezos claims the Kindle Fire has taken 22% of the US tablet market since its launch in October 2011. A European launch is also on the cards, after Amazon unveiled a version of its Amazon Market for Kindle Fire apps on Thursday.
The US price for the first Kindle Fire was $199, but there is no indication of UK or European prices. The next version is expected to bring a higher-quality screen than the first. Amazon is believed to be losing money on each tablet sold, but recoups it in profits on content people buy from its music, video and web stores, which are tightly woven into the core software.
Nokia: “I wouldn’t be surprised”
Although the Kindle Fire is based on Google’s Android software, it does not connect to Google’s app market or services. Instead, it is understood that it will introduce mapping services built by struggling phone-maker Nokia, whose NavTeq subsidiary already provides mapping data for Microsoft’s Bing search engine.
The tie-up will be a fresh blow to Google, whose maps and video services will cease to be the default once Apple’s next iPhone launches, expected to be on 12 September.
Nokia declined to comment on whether its maps would be used on the Kindle Fire, but one company official said it would “not be a surprise” as several car manufacturers have teamed up with the Finnish company on location services in recent months.
The contract with Amazon is a coup for Nokia, but a loss for Google in the tablet space. Apple’s iPad dominates in tablets, and the Kindle Fire is reckoned to have been in second place in the US. However, map use is far greater in smartphones than in tablets.
Bezos said in a statement that the Kindle Fire had been the “No1 best-selling product across the millions of items available on Amazon” since its launch four months ago. He also claimed that “in just nine months, Kindle Fire has captured 22% of tablet sales in the US”.
But his claim that the tablet was sold out was challenged by Bloomberg TV, which said it had called a sample of retailers around San Francisco and found 56% with a Kindle Fire on the shelves.
Figures laid out
Though neither Amazon nor Bezos has ever given sales figures for any version of the Kindle, the numbers he provided for the proportion of tablet sales has given analysts sufficient space to estimate sales, based on figures that appeared in the Apple-Samsung case in California.
There, both Apple and Samsung provided figures for their US sales of phones and tablets by quarter since mid-2012.
Horace Dediu, founder of the Asymco consultancy, reckons that over the nine months the rest of the US tablet market totalled 22.7m units – and that Bezos’ number suggests an initial production run of 5m, which is now exhausted.
But he said that it was “not an auspicious start” because the limited production run, of which an estimated 2m were sold in the first three months, suggests “it was not planning it as a maximisation of reach into the market. What they did was order a batch production and then wait for it to be sold through.”
Benedict Evans, of Enders Analysis, suggests that the number could be higher, at 6m to 6.5m units, but adds “only Amazon really knows – and probably only a few dozen people even inside Amazon.”
Bloomberg’s Erlichman reported that more than half of stores he had called said they had Kindle Fires on their shelves to sell.