Sorry Apple, but you’ve been beaten at your own game

After a few days trying the Kindle Fire HDX courtesy of Amazon, my mind is made up: Apple has fallen asleep on the job, allowing Amazon to steal a march.

It is hardly worth mentioning that I was not particularly attracted to the idea of trying the Kindle Fire. I have been using iPads pretty much since the get go, and I’m largely satisfied with the device. I’m not a big tablet user though, it has to be said: I only use it as a substitute for my computer if I’m not expecting to need it much, which means I tend to associate it with the sofa, for casual reading or occasional use. I might answer an email, make a few notes, but I very rarely write on the thing.

I am also a Kindle user, in fact I use this device more often than a tablet. Like most academics, I am a voracious reader, and almost always have my Kindle with me, so that I can take advantage of any spare moments. But so far, the Kindle has strictly been used for reading books and magazines, because that’s what it does best: no eye fatigue, even in direct sunlight, and it allows me to take notes and extract quotes; in fact you could forget that it is an electronic device at all sometimes.

But when I turned the Kindle Fire HDX on, something strange happened: I logged into my Amazon account, and found all my books immediately before my eyes (with their covers in color, which after so long reading in black and white is a pleasant surprise). I installed a few apps from Amazon… and found the experience very comfortable. So comfortable in fact, that I found myself asking what the Apple has that the Kindle doesn’t.

Well, here’s the answer: the Kindle is lighter than the iPad Air (370 grams vs 450 grams); its screen has higher resolution than the mythical Retina (339 ppi vs 264 ppi); and it is decidedly cheaper (€380 vs €479). It also has a better camera, better sound, and a better battery… A quick comparison is available via Amazon or on this video:

In short, in nine categories (screen, processor, storage, design, price, platform and applications, camera, battery, and accessories), ZDNet’s comparison puts the Apple ahead in only one regard, and one that is not particularly important: accessories. Their conclusion? “The iPad Air is a great tablet, but the Kindle Fire HDX is better”.

Beyond comparisons based on parameters, what really impresses me about the Kindle Fire HDX—and I don’t consider myself easy to impress—is ease of use. This isn’t just about the device, but about the overall system. To be able to find the book or books that you are reading so easily, to be able to read without hurting your wrists because it is so light, or to use the audiobook facility when you are feeling a little tired, and to be able to turn it off and continue reading later on another Kindle, on your computer screen, or on a phablet, because everything, from your notes to your page mark will all still be there.

The thinking behind this device is to integrate your reading with storage, with the apps store, with the backup… with everything. In other words, Amazon has hit Apple below the water line in terms of the usability that we used to associate with the company. This is what I found most pleasurable about using the Kindle. I can honestly say that I am enchanted with the device.

All of which prompts the question as to what advantage Apple now has that it is no longer a pioneer: with the first iPads, Apple was taking a risk: it didn’t know whether such a device, belonging to a category largely rejected by the market, would take off. After its initial success, other companies started making tablets, but iPad managed to hold onto its headstart for several years.

Over this time Apple’s device has simply been improved bit by bit, via better resolution, smaller size, weight reduction, etc. Then along comes another company with a similar strategy, based on ease of use and a range of services (which is no mean feat), and then improves on Apple’s product, despite its pioneering work.

Apple redefined a category that everybody thought was going nowhere: the tablet, squeezing everything out of it, turning it into one of its best-selling products, and then… has been beaten at its own game.

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