Companies & Industries

Why we still don't have the Kindle Fire

The U.S. and half of Europe have it.

(Photo: Michael Nelson/Newscom)

(Photo: Michael Nelson/Newscom)

In late January, Amazon announced it was bringing one of its insanely popular devices to Canada. The only problem? It wasn’t called the Kindle Fire.

Instead, the online retail giant launched its latest e-reader, called the Kindle Paperwhite, featuring a new lighting system and a higher-resolution touch screen. It hit shelves and e-commerce carts last September in the U.S. and quickly sold out, backing up orders by up to six weeks.

Despite the Paperwhite’s new-found status as Amazon’s most advanced, top-selling e-reader, the rollout reminded Canadians that we still can’t buy the Kindle Fire, a fully functional tablet computer that poses the most formidable challenge yet to Apple’s ubiquitous (and, some say, overpriced) iPad. The US$199 Fire launched in 2011 stateside. So what’s the holdup here?

Amazon spokesperson Beatrice Decoudun would only say that the company aims to launch all of its devices in every country, and Canada is no exception. “I can tell you we’re moving unbelievably quickly,” Decoudun said in an e-mail. “Just 14 months ago the Fire didn’t even exist, so stay tuned.”

It was easier to be patient for the heavily hyped and hot-selling Fire tablet when the U.S. was the only place you could buy it. But last September, when CEO Jeff Bezos introduced the new Fire HDs, the company also announced that the new tablets would be available in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

Most observers contend the Canadian delay isn’t hardware-related or part of a broader sales strategy but rather collateral damage from the same complicated content rights and licensing issues that have plagued Netflix on this side of the border. The Kindle’s success never hinged on the device itself but the quiver of Amazon content—books, magazines, TV shows and movies—it can easily access. The biggest barrier between Canadian consumers and the Kindle Fire HD is that the company’s Netflix and iTunes-esque Prime video service isn’t available here.

“Content like Prime video is obviously one of the major selling points for the Fire, and without it, they would be missing a huge component,” says IDC Canada senior analyst Krista Napier. “So, before Fire comes to Canada, they’ll be working to get all those pieces together.”

Tablet adoption in Canada was at about 14% at the end of 2012, so even with new competition—the likes of Nexus 7, Samsung Galaxy Tab 2, Kobo Arc and iPad Mini—there is still a lot of room for growth. “If [Amazon] were to come in with a competitive device at a competitive price, they would have plenty of opportunity to do very well,” says Napier. As long as Canadians think it’s worth the wait.