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What Steve Jobs Would Have Said About the Kindle Fire vs. the Nook

It’s all about the content.
November 14, 2011

Anyone who has read any of the many, many reviews of Walter Isaacson’s biography of El Jobso can guess the first thing that Steve Jobs would have said about the new Amazon Fire and Barnes and Noble Nook tablets. (“This is shit.”)

“What’s the loop in the corner for? Attaching a lead balloon? ‘Cause that’s how this thing is going to go over.”—Hypothetical Steve Jobs

But what about the second and third thing he would have said? Which tablet would Steve Jobs have taken to a desert island, assuming he wouldn’t just smash them to pieces first and die of boredom rather than be confined to a competitor’s inferior product?

The answer is easy: The Kindle Fire is the only logical choice for our hypothetical, heavily medicated, castaway Steve. The Nook Tablet may have significantly better hardware specs at for just a $50 premium, but that’s irrelevant. Why? It’s the content, stupid.

As Jon Philips put it, “the Fire is a fiendishly effective shopping portal in the guise of a 7-inch slate.” It seamlessly accesses all of Amazon’s storefronts (books, apps, video, retail) in a way that makes it the perfect content consumption device. Just like the iPad, but with a more popular and more device-agnostic bookstore instead of a massive catalog of software.

The one very un-Steve like move Amazon made was to put a Web browser on the Kindle Fire. It’s slow and cumbersome, in sharp contrast to the rest of the tablet’s features. I’m betting Jobs would have released it without one.

I know, it sounds crazy—a tablet without the ability to browse the Web? But a tablet with apps is a device that already accesses significant portions of the Web, but packaged into a format that will run much faster on the Fire: apps.

Recall that Jobs had a history of “crippling” his devices in ways that made them incapable of doing things that he thought they weren’t ready to do. From a lack of Flash support on the iPhone to the absence of true multitasking even on Apple’s most powerful mobile devices, Apple has always known that more people will be turned off by a device doing something badly than will flock to it for its support for edge cases in the ecosystem of gadget freaks.

Amazon, possibly to its detriment, has never really respected the Jobsian dictate that every part of the mobile experience should be as exquisitely choreographed as a Japanese tea ceremony. Even Kindles with e-ink screens have an “experimental” Web browser, which I suspect most people use once and then give up on, if they know how to access it at all. An e-ink Kindle will also play your music, not that you’ve ever seen anyone jack their headphones into one.

So while the Barnes and Noble Nook Tablet may be the more powerful offering, and is likely to be the favorite of tablet owners who are looking for an inexpensive alternative to the iPad that they can hack to their heart’s content, these features are likely to appeal to only a small subset of the tablet-buying public.

A post-PC device, after all, should be all about simplicity and ease of use. That’s also the reason that Amazon Kindle Fire could eat a significant portion of the iPad’s market share—if Amazon can just restrain itself from producing a device that will invite direct comparison to the more-capable, but more complicated, tablet from Apple.

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