The tablet market just got a lot more interesting.
At a press event here in New York, Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos introduced the next generation of the Seattle retailer’s line of e-book readers — led by the $199 Kindle Fire, a general-purpose tablet computer that looks primed to provide the iPad with its first serious competition when it ships Nov. 15.
The Fire trades in the grayscale e-ink displays of earlier Kindles for a 7-inch color touchscreen and, thanks to its Android-based software, can run programs from the Appstore Amazon launched for Google’s operating system earlier this year.
The Fire also connects to Amazon’s excellent MP3 music store and video-on-demand service. The same Whispersync technology that lets you start reading an e-book on a Kindle and then pick up where you left off in one of its Kindle programs, Bezos said, will let you start watching a movie on the Fire and then switch to the Amazon app on a connected TV or Blu-ray player.
The Fire’s browser, called Silk, aims to speed up mobile browsing by offloading the harder work of rendering a page’s HTML and embedded multimedia (Adobe Flash included) to Amazon’s EC2 cloud-computing service.
Oh, and you can read books on the thing — just not those purchased from most competing e-book stores, thanks to the “digital rights management” restrictions demanded by publishers.
Unless this device reveals itself to be utterly buggy or yields a battery life far worse than the claimed eight hours of Web browsing — journalists here could only briefly touch demo units–it gives would-be iPad buyers a far more compelling alternative than such earlier competitors as HP’s now-abandoned, app-starved TouchPad and Acer’s buggy A100.
Sure, the Kindle Fire only connects over WiFi, not 3G wireless, and it leaves out a camera. But at $199, it’s vastly cheaper than Apple’s tablet and even costs less than the iPod touch — a point Bezos underscored with his repeated invocations of Amazon selling “premium products at non-premium prices.”
With the Fire, Bezos also introduced three cheaper models using e-ink screens. The $99, WiFi-only Kindle Touch, pictured at left, adds a touch-sensitive screen, while the $149 Kindle Touch 3G adds free wireless data service in “over 100 countries.” Both ship Nov. 21. And the already-available $79 Kindle — you can think of it as the iPod shuffle of the Kindle lineup–sticks with conventional buttons.
Note that all of those prices assume you don’t mind seeing “Special Offers” ads (now including “Amazon Local” daily deals provided by LivingSocial) on its screen. Opting out of them adds $30 to the entry-level Kindle’s price and $40 to the other two.
These cheaper Kindles, unlike the Fire and its glossy screen, can easily be read in direct sunlight. Amazon executives sounded confident that buyers would simply get one of each.
It’s unclear how well that will work out, although having prices lower than even Barnes & Noble’s competing Nook readers can’t hurt.
Credit: Rob Pegoraro/Discovery