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Read It Later app downloads suggest Kindle Fire got into a lot of hands this holiday

by Phil Hornshaw

Amazon still hasn’t given us any kind of solid numbers about the market penetration of its Kindle Fire tablet that was released back in November, so we still don’t know just how big a bite the new 7-inch Android tablet has taken out of the rest of the market.

But evidence is mounting that suggests the bargain-priced device – it’s just $199 – found its way into quite a few homes during the 2011 holiday season, and may have seen some pretty high activation numbers.

As GigaOM reports, one metric is app downloads for a specific app. Read It Later, an app that allows users to save articles being read in a web browser on their computers or mobile devices to read later as plain text, is available across both Google’s Android operating system and Apple’s iOS platform. The app’s developer says it saw a 148 percent jump in device registrations for its app between November and December. Read It Later Pro, the paid version of the app, saw 45 percent of its holiday users downloading the app to Android devices, with another 19 percent going to Kindle Fire tablets.

That’s a pretty healthy slice of the Android pie for one developer, and it gets a little more interesting, as well. Read It Later founder and CEO Nate Weiner broke down the numbers even further: On Christmas Eve, for example, Read It Later saw 47 percent of its new users downloading to Android devices, 19 percent using the iPad, 29 percent using the iPhone and 5 percent using the Kindle Fire. By Christmas Day, the numbers started to shift, with the Kindle Fire accounting for 14 percent of new users. Other Android devices dropped to 41 percent, iPhone users dropped to 26 percent, and iPad users held steady at 19 percent.

The Fire’s portion of Read It Later’s pie grew again on Dec. 26. New Read It Later users were now 17 percent Kindle Fire users; 39 percent used other Android devices, 25 percent used iPhones and, still steady, 19 percent used iPads.

Of course, this is just one example and it’s hard to draw detailed conclusions for the experience of one app developer, but the numbers are definitely interesting and suggest that Amazon moved quite a few Kindle Fire tablets during the holidays. Amazon itself has said it sold some 4 million Kindle devices during the four weeks before Christmas, of which the Kindle Fire was the best seller. One analyst suggested that many people looking to give tablets as gifts this holiday opted for the cheaper Amazon device instead of a $499 (minimum) iPad, and that cost Apple as many as a million device sales in 2011.

It does seem as though Amazon has found itself a niche and customers are responding. How it holds up to the release of the next iPad sometime this spring might be the real test of its popularity, but evidence suggests the low-price, 7-inch tablet is here to stay.