Amazon’s announcement of the new Kindle Fire lineup has reminded me how important it is to establish a flagship family tree of products, and how advantageous it is for those companies who manage to do so.
Samsung managed it spectacularly with the Galaxy S flagship models. Their Windows Mobile smartphones were disasters, and Galaxy A, their first Android phone released in Spring 2010, was little better. But the latter was just a time filler for Galaxy SI, in development with the company studiously *ahem* “benchmarking” iPhone 3GS. Galaxy S1’s success allowed Samsung to concentrate on annual improvements on one flagship model, and what has followed is well litiga… I mean documented.
In contrast, while LG also established an overarching brand name for their smartphone lineup, Optimus, around the same time as Samsung’s Galaxy, they have yet to succeed in narrowing their focus to a single lineage. Optimuses (or Optimi, if you like) One, 2X, Black, 3D, etc have come and gone, but there still isn’t that groove that they can settle in and crank out annual iterations. Same goes for Motorola and HTC: Motorola had the Droid out in 2009, way before the others, and subsequent products under that name were well reviewed, but they didn’t stick and the company ended up diluting the brand by throwing in their venerable RAZR tag. That was in 2011. It wasn’t a bad move in itself, but again Motorola couldn’t leave it alone and kept adding titles to it: HD, Maxx. We will see where the Droid RAZR series goes, but it won’t be very far. HTC, meanwhile, were way ahead of other Android phone makers, being the first not only with an Android phone but also with Google’s Nexus flagship. Their Desire back in 2010 was well-received, and in that year, with Incredible and EVO 4G, HTC were in a strong position. But as this page shows, they didn’t bother establishing their own flagship model under an annual upgrade roadmap. The One series, again in a running motif, got great reviews, but by the time it came out earlier this year Apple and Samsung had established a dual hegemony which doesn’t seem likely to be broken anytime soon.
The most extreme example, of course, is Apple. Even Samsung still dabbles in alternative models like Galaxy Note, and the other companies are only just cottoning on to the idea, but Apple remains resolutely behind just one model, and its nomenclature has been consistently just ‘iPhone’ with only numerical qualifiers. And no wonder, since they sell so well.
So we come back to Amazon. They have had several versions of the Kindle e-reader, with different screen sizes and input medium. But the quality of these products as well as the association with the powerful Amazon brand has left a deep imprint in consumers’ minds, so that when they released Kindle Fire last year it got everyone’s attention. With the announcement of vastly superior interations in Kindle Fire HD models this week, there is no doubt that Amazon’s flagship tablet is well on its way to establishing a lineage. And this was possible, really, thanks to the first Kindle Fire. Jeff Bezos and his people had gotten it right by making the Fire the first compelling Android tablet, with a price-point that avoided direct comparison with iPad. Nexus 7 is proof of how well Kindle Fire’s value proposition worked. Kindle Fire thus provided a platform for Amazon to iterate, which today is probably one of the most valuable assets for technology OEMs.