I saw the Kindle Fire in action yesterday at Amazon’s big product announcement in New York. I didn’t get to hold it, but I like what I saw at the different demo stations. Today, I’ve been reading articles around the web. Some claim it lacks flexibility, while others applaud its focus; some claim it’s no “iPad killer,” but think it will be a good wing man to Apple’s famed tablet. I believe it’s in a category all its own. The Kindle category.

It’s not an iPad, it’s a Kindle

Much like the original Kindle was designed expressly for reading books, the Kindle Fire is designed expressly to consume other types of media (and a few books too, if that’s what you’re into). Much like the Kindle leveraged Amazon’s extensive e-book catalog to sell books, the Kindle Fire is for those who want a simple device that will let them purchase and enjoy colorful things like magazines, music, video, websites, and some games and apps as well, all of which are sold by Amazon. If you want to read a book or document, you can do that too, much like you can try to browse the Web on the original Kindle. It’s not necessarily designed for reading books, but Amazon is generous with its services.

All of this is spelled out incredibly clearly. Unlike a traditional Android tablet, the Kindle Fire has a homescreen that’s designed like a bookshelf with a coverflow interface. You can line up your favorite apps or media on the shelves and flip between the last few things you’ve done, but the main options of the Kindle Fire are always front and center. You can click on “Newsstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps, or Web. That is what the Kindle Fire does. That’s it. It’s not going to connect to anything Amazon doesn’t sell, and if it does, it won’t be optimal. Much like Apple designed the iPad to work under iTunes and Google (sort of) designs Android devices to run off of its services, Amazon plans to control and deliver almost everything you consume on the Kindle Fire, and it plans to back it all up too. All content on your Fire will be backed up onto your own personal Amazon Cloud Drive. From what we’ve seen, the whole process is relatively seamless. Much like AmazonMP3, you will be able to download whatever movies and content you wish to the device and stream other content as you please.

Amazon’s incredible cloud capabilities extend to its browser as well, which could be the most innovative thing about the device. Much like what Opera has tried to do with its mobile browsers, Amazon is leveraging its extensive cloud of servers and processing power to speed up browsing using its new Silk browser. Instead of just loading everything from a Website, Amazon’s cloud will act as an intermediary, compressing and making web pages more digestible before they’re downloaded to the Kindle Fire. We love the idea and look forward to seeing it in action more.

The fabled iPad killer

There is no such thing as an “iPad killer.” This new Kindle isn’t going to kill the iPad any more than the iPad killed the E-Ink Kindles. These are two different products. This device doesn’t have a camera and it has a screen half the size of the iPad. It’s also less than half the price of Apple’s device. Both will sell well, but they will likely do so independently. Those who are invested in Apple’s iTunes store will likely lean toward an iPad. Those who use Amazon services may lean toward a Kindle Fire, and there will likely be a good portion of households who have both, or maybe something else as well. With tablet sales only starting to rise, this isn’t an and/or situation. Even if the Kindle Fire takes off, Apple’s tablet will likely continue its upward trajectory as well.

Amazon’s Kindle sales have skyrocketed since the debut of the iPad, despite the fact that the iPad came loaded with an iTunes book store. It’s because they’re different and have different audiences. I believe the Kindle Fire is different enough to live outside of the iPad’s shadow as well. The first generation of Android tablets, well, that’s a different story.

Amazon doesn’t care if you buy a Kindle Fire

Don’t buy a Kindle Fire. Buy an iPad instead, or maybe a Motorola Xoom. Amazon doesn’t care because it is employing two simultaneous strategies. It has a hardware division that pumps out products like the Kindle Touch and Fire. Those have done very well, but it is not Apple. When Apple designs software, it’s because it has a vision for a piece of hardware. Amazon does the opposite. At its heart, it is the only big agnostic content company, and that’s why it will be the big winner in the big smartphone and tablet wars.

Google used to be in an agnostic third-party position, but it has put its money behind Android and now must routinely ensure the success of its own smartphone and tablet platform before it can consider supporting its services. Android has become at least as important to Google as the Web. While some of its services can still be used elsewhere, you need an Android device to tap into its real goodies these days. And the company that really hates Android, Microsoft, makes its money by selling operating systems and selling software for those operating systems. Sometimes it makes money by selling Google’s operating systems too, as it turns out.

Why Amazon will lead the big four:

  • Apple sells content and writes software to sell hardware. It is a hardware company.
  • Microsoft sells content and makes hardware to sell software. It is a software company.
  • Google sells or gives away content and software to sell advertisements. It is an ad sales company.
  • Amazon sells or gives away hardware and software to sell content. It is an online retailer — a content company.

Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon all sell large amounts of content on devices of all kinds, but Amazon is the only free agent among them. Sure, it has a few Kindles, but unlike how Apple views things, the Kindle device itself is not the most important product to Amazon: the content is king, and it plans to sell that content on every other platform it possibly can. Its services are available on Windows Phone, iOS, Android, and even webOS, to name a few. Every smartphone platform has a Kindle book reading app. You can read your Kindle books from almost any device or computer. The same goes for AmazonMP3 and Amazon’s Instant Video services. They are being embedded in more TVs and smartphones every day.

Amazon is a store. It wants you to buy things from it. Despite their dedication to selling things, Microsoft, Google, and Apple are tied to their own OS market shares. Amazon is free to do whatever it wants. Today, it wants to package its store as a tablet and sell that tablet for a market-leading low price. Tomorrow, who knows.