In the US the Amazon Fire is running head to head with Kobo's Fire, both priced at $200. They have a similar specification, particularly around the operating system. Amazon are credited with devising an overlaying operating system that all but hides the Android OS it runs on, to make it all their own, though. That's not a criticism per se, just an observation. As far as I can see the Kobo doesn't mess with the OS, which probably makes it more attractive to those customers who are prepared to upload newer versions and not be as dependant on Kobo, but again, that may not be a deal maker or breaker to most potential customers.
Amazon have probably been wrong-footed by the launch of the Vox in the UK; it was kept pretty secret until the day of the release. WH Smith, currently the sole supplier of the Vox in the UK, didn't let on they were to sell it until the day it was launched, and then managed to get stock into all of their 750 stores' display terminals straight away. They've been doing fine at keeping secrets this last quarter anyway; a store manager I spoke with shortly after the launch of the Kobo basic eReader and the Kobo Touch admitted that the store staff, including himself, had been kept in the dark right up until the devices turned up on their doorstep. The upside of this is that their high street competitors, including Tesco and Waterstones, were suitably wrong-footed by the move. The downside is that staff had an immediate and very steep learning curve around devices WH Smith had never stocked before. They received some severe criticism from eReader fans who expected the staff to know about the products on day one.
Amazon aren't looking to make the same mistake, they're signalling loud and clear that the Fire will launch in January, so consequently any high street resellers such as Tesco will be able to prepare for the launch. But will they find the Vox will have taken the lead in super-eReader market? Well Amazon do have an immense market presence in the UK eReader market, and that's got to count for something. Plus, although WH Smith have got the sole supplier status for the Vox, they seem to have gone a little lukewarm on the promised media blitz. Perhaps Asda being allowed to muscle in on the Kobo range just before Christmas - they started selling the basic and Touch versions Friday 9th December - has taken the wind out of their sails. After all, if WH Smith spend lots of money promoting those two models, which are being sold for less by Asda anyway, then they're simply advertising for a competitor. Now it's possible they are building up for a Vox biased media campaign on the run up to Christmas, but they'd better be quick if they are.
So Amazon may not lose too much ground by launching in January, however they have to accept that sales are likely to be soft. It's hard to sell anything full price after Christmas - what am I talking about? In the UK for the last few years it's been difficult to sell anything full price from the 22nd December onwards, such is the level of desperation for sales - so a January launch is a challenge all round. My best guess is that Amazon are hoping the Vox doesn't gain too much of a foothold in the UK over Christmas and then spend a year building the product up ready for the 2012 season, perhap in time for a new version and the much rumoured ten inch version, challenging the iPad at the same time. Now, that'll be a battlefield worth watching!
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