Jeff Bezos recently said that these days, “if you are just building a device you are unlikely to succeed.” He certainly seems to be backing that statement up, with the launch of the Kindle Fire producing more optimism than the last ten non-iPad tablet launches combined. It seems that people do indeed like the idea of a purpose-built device that does a few things well, walled garden or not.
But Bezos glossed over the other side of the “make your own ecosystem” coin: providing and administrating that ecosystem not only requires immense resources, but can occasionally cause major roadblocks. In this case it appears that the Kindle Fire and Touch will be unavailable UK or EU, for reasons and duration not specified. It wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that they’re more than just devices, would it?
Amazon hasn’t replied to my queries, and given that they haven’t publicly commented on this so far, I don’t expect much of an answer even if they do. In the meantime, let’s look at the possibilities as to why this roll-out is limited, in order of escalating likelihood.
1. They haven’t gotten the devices approved by European government authorities. You can’t release a wireless product unless it’s been cleared by the FCC here in the US, and there are similar agencies throughout the world that conduct their own, slightly different testing. However, submitting devices to these authorities is a matter of course and I doubt Amazon would simply fail to do so. And the devices are too similar to others out there to cause any serious delay in their approval.
2. The Silk browser is incompatible with European privacy and data protection laws. The way Silk works, in a nutshell, is it offloads some rendering and querying to Amazon servers, which in a way request a page on your behalf and then stream it to you in an optimized format. This man-in-the-middle technique isn’t new in principle, but having it as the default mode of communication for a major device is. It’s possible that the system has run afoul of regulations prohibiting private data from being routed through a third party like this. Naturally Amazon would be using localized datacenters, but the ownership of the data may fall into a grey area not yet fully approved by the EU and UK (this is ZDNet’s hypothesis).
This is an interesting idea, but I don’t think the law is that protective, nor that similar between the UK and EU, on this topic at least. Furthermore, this does nothing to explain why the Touch isn’t available, either. It uses the same “experimental” browser as the rest of the e-ink devices.
3. They don’t have the content. This is almost certainly it. Despite spending hundreds of millions on Euro content providers like LoveFilm, they just don’t have the libraries and rights in order. Bezos took his own advice about launching just a device, since without a superior selection of content, the Amazon Fire is just a second-rate tablet with an Amazon veneer. They’ve spent years developing relationships and clout here in the US, and Bezos can be confident that they’re providing not just a good tablet experience, but a huge selection of content along with it. Clearly he’s not confident they can do the same in the EU.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t explain why the Kindle Touch is unavailable. My only thought is that the new touch interface hasn’t been localized to the various other regions yet, but that seems like a rookie mistake, not something Amazon would be likely to overlook.
I feel fairly sure that the Fire is unavailable because Amazon hasn’t yet assembled a quorum of content partners, and a piecemeal release in some countries but not others would go contrary to their regional release strategy. But why a device that only differs from the competition in brand and interface (the Kindle Touch is nearly identical to the Nook Touch and Kobo Touch) would fail to be released is still a mystery. I can think of no credible reason why Amazon would want to only launch in the US, so I believe there must be some insoluble problem, or several, at the heart of it. Or maybe I’m just missing something really obvious.
If you have any compelling conspiracy theories or know something I don’t about any dispute or law that might prohibit these devices from being sold, please share. Until Amazon comments on this, it’s all speculation.
Update: several commenters suggest it’s a supply chain issue. Time will certainly tell, though personally I’m still backing the the content thing. Reports said Amazon had orders in for four million units to be sold just in 2011. I’d say that’s a lot to book for just the US, but I could be wrong. And I don’t see the suppliers failing to fill the order; the device isn’t made of uncommon components.