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Day September 30, 2011

The case against the Kindle as a low end tablet disruption

In an Harvard Business Review post Rob Wheeler makes the case for the Kindle Fire as a disruptive innovation. I believe that it is but crucially I disagree that the Kindle Fire is a low end disruption.

My assessment of the Kindle Fire is based on the two attributes which Amazon highlights as the key selling points which offer a basis of differentiation and potential for asymmetric competition: a low price and a new browsing model. I believe that these two attributes result in two opportunities: one for low end disruption and another of new market disruption. I reject the first and tentatively support the second.[1]

The price

It’s immediately obvious that the price point of the Kindle Fire is well below alternatives. That forms the basis of disruptive potential, but before we jump to analyzing the disruption hypothesis we should determine whether and to what extent Amazon profits from the device directly. Profitability gives us a clue to where Amazon will apply resources and thus establish its trajectory of improvement.

We know the margin on the Fire is low because we can calculate the bill of materials for 7″ tablets. Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray estimates that Amazon “loses” $50 for each unit sold. We also know that the design Amazon used is essentially very similar to the RIM PlayBook and was sourced from the same ODM. RIM priced the product at $499 but has struggled to find buyers and is reluctantly dropping the price. We also can estimate that Apple with a product having more than twice the screen size is keeping modest (~30%) gross margins for at a price point approximately double that of the Fire. It does seem that Amazon does not have much or any margin to dip into.[2]

So the Fire can be classified as a low price product. Does that make it a low end disruption?