Kindle Fire: King of the Android Tablet Market

The Amazon Kindle Fire may corral 50 percent of the Android tablet market in 2012, considerably less than the Apple iPad, but in much better position than Android tablets from Samsung, Motorola and HTC.

Despite some certain usability hiccups, the 7-inch Amazon Kindle Fire tablet could rack up as much as 50 percent of the market for tablets based on Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) operating system, according to an analyst.

CNN reported that Evercore Partners analyst Robert Cihra said that the Fire "may just vaporize other "for profit" Android tablet OEM roadmaps." Apple's iPad leads the market, selling more than 32 million units to date.

While Cihra declined to estimate unit share numbers for the Fire, he acknowledged the tablet, essentially an on-ramp to Amazon's book, music and video content services, has come out strong since its Nov. 15 release. Part of the reason is its low, low cost.

The Fire costs $199, or half that of its analog WiFi-only Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus rival, a premium tablet running Google's Honeycomb Android build. Early Honeycomb tablets such as the Motorola Xoom were knocked for being buggy or unstable, freezing and crashing at several turns.

Analysts estimate that despite the plethora of Honeycomb tablets flooding the market, OEMs Samsung, Motorola Mobility (NYSE:MMI) and HTC have only sold between 3 million and 4 million units.

What's fascinating about the Kindle Fire's success--Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster modeled Amazon to sell 4 million Fire units this quarter--is that most of the reviewers found the user interface of the Fire to be lacking. The latest expert to put the screws to the Fire include Jakob Nielsen, a usability expert and founder of the Nielsen Norman Group.

Nielsen argued that the Fire's touch targets are off and that the device is a chore to navigate, facts eWEEK's own testing of the tablet for two weeks confirmed. He also noted that the Fire's software has not been tailored for the 7-inch form factor.

"The most striking observation from testing the Fire is that everything is much too small on the screen, leading to frequent tap errors and accidental activation," Nielsen wrote Dec. 5. "You haven't seen the fat-finger problem in its full glory until you've watched users struggle to touch things on the Fire."

The Fire appears to be filling the market need for a low-cost tablet at the low end of the market, with Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad top of the premium heap.

"We see Apple maintaining its competitive lead, if anything accentuated by what now looks like the only tablet to so far mount any credible iPad challenge apparently needing to do so by selling at cost," Cihra wrote.

Cihra's conclusion dovetails with a finding from J.P. Morgan analyst Mark Moskowitz, who noted Dec. 2:

"We believe that Apple is not too concerned about the low-priced entrants. If anything, we think that Apple views the Kindle Fire as a device that stands to bring incremental consumers to the tablet market, and here, these consumers could gravitate to more feature-rich experiences. In other words, we think that Apple is not seeing much pressure from lower-priced tablets, yet."

So Amazon may enjoy success in the near term, with the bulk of consumers leaning toward the iPad. Where that leaves the rest of the Android OEMs in the market is uncertain. Tablets, while hot holiday gifts, are nowhere near as popular as smartphones yet.