The Kindle Fire isn't as capable as Apple Inc.’s iPad, and it isn't as connected as a smartphone. But its mix of price and features makes it well suited to serve the underbanked.

The prepaid card marketer Plastyc of New York this week expects to announce an application for the Kindle Fire, Amazon's $200 Wi-Fi-only tablet. Part of the reason for Plastyc's focus on the Kindle is that the iPad, which starts at $400 (or $500 for the latest version), is out of the price range of many prepaid card users.

"Our audience tends to be lower-income; … not everybody can afford an iPad," says Patrice Peyret, Plastyc's chief executive. However, this audience has easy access to inexpensive smartphones that run Google Inc.'s Android operating system, so they expect to be able to access their finances on the go.

Tablets such as the iPad and the Kindle use variants of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android software, which the companies originally designed for smartphones. These operating systems naturally lend themselves to a mobile experience, but Wi-Fi tablets such as the Kindle Fire aren't replacements for phones; they're replacements for desktop and laptop computers, even among the underbanked, Peyret says.

Some mobile functions don't translate perfectly to Only-only devices, but the workarounds are straightforward and unobtrusive.

For example, Plastyc's mobile users have the ability to use a phone's GPS to locate nearby merchants that sell Green Dot's MoneyPaks, which can be used to reload prepaid card accounts. On a Wi-Fi device like a tablet or a laptop computer, Plastyc simply asks for the user's ZIP code.

Most users did not frequently use the MoneyPak locator, so the extra step of typing a ZIP code does not add detract significantly from the app's ease of use, Peyret says.

This app took two to three weeks to adapt because of its complexity, but many Android apps could be adapted in "a couple of days," says Alexei Miller, an executive vice president and partner at DataArt Solutions, the New York vendor that built Plastyc's Kindle Fire app.

For Plastyc, there were also features tied to security and connectivity that added to the work required.

Though the Kindle fire lacks a GPS or a connection to a carrier's network, it has some advantages over more-expensive devices, Miller says. "The iPad is a superior machine. … It is also a much more closed platform," he says. Even the elements of Android that Amazon blocks, such as push notifications, have substitutes programmers may use.

A longer version of this story is on AmericanBanker.com.

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