Amazon is in a really tough spot thanks to the Nexus 7
In a discussion about the Nexus 7, the question about how long will people keep talking about the Nexus 7 or at least the longevity of the hype behind the Nexus 7 came up. Of course this means two arguments were made for the Kindle Fire successor and the heavily rumored iPad mini. After thinking about the question for a bit, I am convinced that Amazon will be the unfortunate casualty of the current tablet wars. Here's why.
Amazon has been working on a Kindle Fire successor
The idea of a Kindle successor is a certainty, at least to me personally, as I had an interview with a lead Kindle developer at Amazon and during the pre-interview lunch I had the chance to poke and prod about the potential of a Kindle Fire and an "Amazon Phone". While there wasn't a clear declaration of the existence of either devices (as expected) there was an acknowledgments of the need for Amazon to at least be "well informed" about those "markets" and the synergy that their vast media ecosystem can have with those said markets.
That being said, since Amazon would not have had the Jelly Bean 4.1 source code to work with until last week, the best conceivable version they could have been working with was ICS Android 4.0. Now without the need for the visual improvements nor the improved Google Services, it's assumed that Amazon was simply working on a Kindle Fire 2 that was slightly beefier in specs, Quad Core processor, 1GB RAM and perhaps with a larger screen with a higher pixel density.
This leads to the the idea that I believe they were probably a bit blindsided by Google's Nexus 7 offering. By blindsided I don't mean the idea of a 7 inch Google "Nexus" tablet which was already heavily rumored but blindsided by the total comprehensive software/hardware tablet experience that is far superior to that on the Kindle Fire.
Would beefier specs, a larger screen and Android 2.3 (with Amazon's custom UI) really be that much more appealing than an original Kindle Fire? I'm not sure. That being said, Android 4.1 and especially Project butter is, to me, a must on the next Kindle.
What does Amazon do?
This ultimately leaves Amazon with two options;
The first option is to forgo starting from scratch base code (Android 4.1) and keep work on the current build of Android they have been using (most likely Android 2.3) and release the Tablet in the fall right before the holiday season as the successor to the Fire. They could conceivably try to match the Nexus 7 spec for spec, to simply over powered Android's inherent "lagginess" but we've seen in Jelly Bean isn't as simple as throwing beefier hardware at software that core problems are solved.
The second option is to scrap the current build and go with Jelly Bean and try to re-skin it in time for a Fall launch. Here's the problem, looming in the shadows is the almost irrefutable possibility of an "iPad Mini". It would be less than desirable for Amazon to not only have to compete head to head with Google but also with Apple. That's even without considering that Amazon will have to pull a major feat in Software Engineering and beat the big boys; Samsung, HTC, Motorola, etc, in building a skinned Jelly Bean device. For all intent and purposes I believe any attempt at option two would result in the Fire being launched at the same time or at least close to an iPad Mini, which would drown it in the hype of a "mini" Cupertino tablet offering.
Whatever Amazon decides to do has very undesirable cons
While I have no idea what Amazon will do next, or what they even have in store, I think that things just got a lot worse for them since the launch of the Nexus 7. Do they launch a tablet that will feel less than half baked software wise and is simply a spec bump? Or do the pause, reload, and prepare for the big elephant in the room to push out its own offering in the product segment of smaller sized tablets.
Whatever they do in the end, I don't see it going well for Amazon. If I were to bet, I say Amazon meets their original Fall deadline but with yet another Android 2.3 based tablet. They have the multimedia muscle to compete with the Nexus 7 but certainly cannot match the overall experience of an iPad Mini.
What does this mean for Google and the Nexus 7?
The original question during my discussion was about how long the "good will of the tech community" behind Nexus 7 would last. I think it will last for at least as long as there isn't an iPad Mini in this part of the tablet space and even if/when it launches it most certainly not match the Nexus 7's price point so it can most probably keep chugging along after that. That sadly leaves Amazon between a rock and a hard place.
The larger picture shows the Nexus 7 not only competing directly with the Kindle, but really being the rare product that beat Apple to the market as a truly compelling and lust worthy device.
Perhaps this will be the stake in the ground that finally gets serious Android Tablet app development going.
Thanks for reading!