Pulse Scores Key Spot On Kindle’s Home Shelf; Co-founder Says It May Pass 10M Users This Year

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So the Kindle Fire shipped Monday, and the early reviews are out in full force. The reactions, as per usual, are varied. But, for what it’s worth, The Fire is already the best-selling item on Amazon, and many are now saying that the eCommerce giant could sell 5 million of its new devices by the end of the year. No, it’s not an iPad killer, but people are excited by the Kindle’s touch and Android-based evolution, and at $200 there’s no doubt Amazon is going to sell more than a few.

But what’s more interesting (at least to me) than the potential growth of Amazon’s market cap should the Kindle sell like hot cakes, or Apple looking over its shoulder, is how Kindle sales could be a huge victory for one of the little guys.

Pulse, as many are now familiar, is a suped up RSS-style newsfeed aggregator built for the tablet generation. Thanks to its touch-based interface (easy swiping/scrolling), clean design, and visual appeal, the app has gotten a lot of play on the iPad and on Honeycomb. The startup has also struck a number of strategic partnerships with big media outlets, like ESPN, and with deal sites like Groupon.

Now, Pulse’s prospects are even more bright, as the app has been chosen by Amazon as one of the few native, pre-installed apps to be featured on the Kindle Fire. When a Kindle user visits the device’s home shelf, there are four apps that appear to be native on the device: IMDB, Pulse, Facebook, and the Amazon Store. There are 15 more apps in the tab, ten of which are pre-installed and five of which are “suggested” apps, which users have to actively download. Most of the installed apps are things like Contacts, eMail, Audible, Gallery, Help, for example.

Considering Facebook’s Kindle app is actually just a web app that wasn’t even fully designed by Facebook (clicking on it just takes you to m.facebook.com), and Amazon owns IMDB, and, yes, the Amazon Store, that makes Pulse one of the few native apps on the Kindle Fire — and really the only non-Facebook/Amazon native app on the device.

In its blog post today, Pulse said that it is in fact “the only app to be pre-loaded on the device upon shipping”. Obviously, that’s not exactly true, and the post has since been amended to read “one of the only apps to be pre-loaded on the device upon shipping”, but the point remains.

It’s a somewhat surprising vote of confidence from Amazon, which has basically made Pulse the official news reader for its own device that is, by definition, a reader. Of course, the Kindle Fire has a whole lot of new functionality that takes it beyond the “reader” of old and into multimedia, but it’s still a Kindle.

More importantly, the device’s newsstand is front-and-center, but most of the content therein you’ll have to pay for to consume. This makes Pulse the de facto free option for news reading, and as long as the app’s user experience is strong enough to hold users’ attention, it’s going to get a lot of eyeballs.

Furthermore, when Pulse is juxtaposed with the other front-and-center apps (IMDB, Facebook) and the suggested apps to download (Pandora, Weather Channel, ESPN, to name a few) — one gets a further sense of why this is so huge for Pulse. IMDB rakes in 100 million unique visitors per month, Facebook has 800 million global users, Pandora has a market cap of over $2 billion, and ESPN is, well, ESPN.

Pulse, in comparison, was just debuting on the iPad in May of last year and has only raised about $10 million in outside funding. That’s on the higher side for a startup founded less than two years ago, but against the backdrop of the entire industry and Kindle’s home shelf heroes, that’s peanuts.

So, again, whether or not The Fire truly competes head-to-head with the iPad doesn’t really matter — even if the Kindle’s sales were to stop dead at 1 million, that’s still 1 million potential new Pulse users.

“We started the year with under 1 million users”, Pulse Co-founder Akshay Kothari told Bloomberg on Tuesday, “and we’ll probably end the year with over 10 million users”. In any other circumstances, that kind of statement would cause some serious eye-rolling or jaw dropping, but if the Kindle Fire takes off, that projection may even be modest. (Today, Pulse is at 7 million users.)

And put in perspective, Foursquare, which TechCrunch writes about seemingly every other day, just hit 10 million users in June (27 months after launch) and has raised over $70 million.

So, while the Kindle Fire stands to be a money-making machine for Amazon, it seems that for Pulse, it could be pure gold.