updated 11:20 am EDT, Thu August 30, 2012
Company says tablet has 22 percent of US market
Just days ahead of an expected September 6 announcement of new models, Amazon has conveniently "sold out" of its stock of the current Kindle Fire and Kindle Touch, also reporting short supply on other Kindle models. The company, which refuses to release sales or shipment numbers, also claims that the Fire has captured 22 percent of the US tablet market, though it has no significant presence in e-reader sales outside the US, with IDC estimating perhaps a five percent share worldwide.
Critics have pointed out that as Amazon controls the distribution channel of the Kindle line, it can create "shortages" at will, and often does so just ahead of new announcements. In fact, the company suspended ordering of the Fire off its website last week, though resellers were still able to order units.
While the seven-inch Kindle Fire has undoubtedly been one of the more successful non-Apple tablets, its sales were seen to have fallen off dramatically in 2012. Sales of the Fire were believed to have plummeted to just 750,000 for the entire first quarter of 2012, compared to the million-per-week figures following its October debut through the holiday buying season of 2011. The more purely e-reader Kindle models, on the other hand, have had steady and ongoing success in dominating the e-reader device market, though rivals such as Sony, Kobo and Barnes & Noble have seen some success with their own lines of e-readers.
As Amazon does not share actual sales figures, its claim that the Kindle Fire has captured 22 percent of the US tablet market -- even if true -- is almost certainly based on shipments rather than sales, a common publicity ploy used by rival tablet makers to puff up their numbers. In aggregate, however, the Fire has been one of the few Android tablets to break away from the low sales of the pack, though it uses a non-standard and heavily-customized fork of Android designed to keep users focused on Amazon goods and services rather than the larger Android community.
The timing of the new model, which hasn't been confirmed but is widely expected, couldn't be better. The Kindle Fire specifically is facing some strong competition in its mid-size space, both from Google's Nexus 7 (which has garnered reviews calling it the best of the current 7-inch options) and the long-rumored "iPad mini" which Apple may be in the process of preparing for an October debut, and which is expected to offer both a slightly larger 8-inch size as well as additional new features, not to mention the benefits of the forthcoming iOS 6.
Little is known about the likely revamped Fire, but it is thought that the company may offer a full-sized, 10-inch version to more directly compete with the iPad, and may try to undercut the cost to consumers by offering an ad-supported model. The company has been courting app and game developers, promising to share more user data than either Google or Apple in exchange for exclusive offerings. The Kindle e-reader line is also expected to get a makeover, with a possible front-lit option on some models to facilitate night reading among other improvements.
It is also safe to assume that any new models will be accompanied by a major marketing blitz as Amazon tries to recapture its holiday success of last year. A rumor that Amazon may also use the opportunity to launch its own branded smartphone has also been floating around. Apple is expected to debut its next model of iPhone about a week later, according to rumors.