Kindle Fire: Amazon tablet unveiled

Kindle Fire: Amazon's much-anticipated tablet device – the $199 Kindle Fire – will be a formidable competitor in the tablet wars.

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    Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos holds up the new Kindle Fire tablet device at a news conference in New York today.
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In a head-on challenge to Apple’s iPad, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos launched a $199 tablet, along with a bevy of other products, in a hotly anticipated Wednesday morning press conference in New York.

The Kindle Fire is poised to be a formidable competitor in the sizzling hot tablet wars. Compared to the iPad, which starts at $499, this device sells for less than half the price of the cheapest iPads.

The 14.6-ounce Fire is a transformed version of the Kindle e-book reader: It has a 7-inch color touchscreen, runs on Google’s Android operating system, has a dual core processor, offers Wi-Fi connectivity (but no 3G). It also lacks a camera, microphone, GPS, and comes with only 8 GB of storage.

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But that’s not the point. The Kindle Fire isn’t about the hardware, or about computing. With a $15 billion media business, Amazon is a media giant and its goal isn’t to sell hardware, but to sell the media that will run on its devices. “It’s not just books,” Amazon CEO Bezos told Wired. “It’s music, games, software, it’s a bunch of different things.”

The device may be the star now, but the focus is really on selling Amazon products. “The big draw of the Kindle Fire is easy access to content bought through Amazon,” writes NPR’s Linda Holmes in a blog on the Fire launch. “Whether books, music, or video. There are certainly other ways to get content onto the Fire, but Amazon's own offerings will have a lot to do with the device's appeal.”

The Fire is available Nov. 15.

Though the Fire was the star player in Wednesday’s press conference, Bezos also introduced two new e-readers. The Kindle Touch uses the same pearl e-ink as the previous Kindle, but it has a touch screen so users can swipe a finger to turn the page or type on an on-screen keyboard. “This is the top of the line Kindle,” Bezos said in the press conference. The Touch is $149 with Amazon Whispernet mobile connectivity and $99 for the Wi-Fi only version.

Bezos also unveiled a slimmer, lighter version of the ad-supported Kindle e-reader (a traditional one, in which side buttons are used to turn pages). Because there’s no physical keyboard, it’s under six ounces. Even better? It’s only $79. “At $79, it’s really going to blow people away,” Bezos told Wired Magazine last week in a sneak preview. ““These are premium products at non-premium prices.”

Both Kindle e-readers can be pre-ordered today and ship Nov. 21.

Amazon also announced its own web browser Wednesday, Amazon Silk. “Silk is a web browser designed with cloud computing in mind,” writes PC World. “The idea behind that is to offload intelligent behavior prediction and page loading work to Amazon's Web services, so the heavy lifting is done there and not on the tablet's browser.”

The Kindle e-readers are a favorite of many book readers, but the Kindle Fire represents a stunningly aggressive foray into the tablet wars by Amazon. Most tech and media watchers, including the Monitor, expected the tablet to launch at $250. The aggressively-priced $199 Fire will shake up the tablet wars and challenge – but not necessarily unseat – Apple’s dominance in the industry.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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