Tablet computers beware: Amazon Kindle Fire is only $199

The Amazon Kindle Fire will be a 'service,' not just one of the many tablet computers, says Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

The Amazon Kindle Fire is shown at a press event in New York. The Kindle Fire is being positioned as a 'service,' not just one of the many tablet computers.

At a press event on Wednesday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos finally took the wraps off the long-rumored, much-discussed Kindle Fire, a bantamweight tablet computer nimble enough to compete against the Apple iPad, Barnes and Noble Nook Color, and even cable TV subscriptions. The Fire will launch in mid-November – all the better to capitalize on the holiday shopping rush – and sell for $199, three-hundred bucks less expensive than the very cheapest iPad.

But Bezos seemed to caution against directly comparing the Fire to other tablet computers. "What we are doing is offering premium products at non-premium prices," Bezos said on Wednesday. "Other tablet contenders 'have not been competitive on price' and 'have just sold a piece of hardware.' We don’t think of the Kindle Fire as a tablet. We think of it as a service."

In that way, the Fire has much in common with the regular ol' Kindle, which has long been marketed as an inexpensive portal into the Amazon e-book library. Speaking of the black-and-white Kindle, Amazon today introduced a new touchscreen version of its flagship e-reader. The Wi-Fi only Kindle Touch arrives on Nov. 21, and will sell for $99; the 3G version gets the same shelf date, with $149 price tag.

Meanwhile, the non-touch Kindle will now sell for $79, Bezos said, beginning today. But it's the Fire that has ginned up the most buzz, and for good reason – by undercutting the iPad on price, Amazon's new device could come to dominate the entry-level tablet market. (As of now, the Fire is Wi-Fi only.)

"In the bit of time I got to spend with the new Kindle Fire, I was impressed by how much Amazon had packed into the $199 tablet," writes the Washington Post's Hayley Tsukayama. "While it didn't show fantastic performance, the value made the tablet incredibly attractive. The Fire looks a lot like the BlackBerry PlayBook – a plain, black screen – but works perfectly as a portal to all the movies, apps, music and video one could possibly want to consume."

Well, almost all the content one could possibly want to consume. As Molly Wood notes over at CNET, Amazon has not "explicitly denied that it will block access to competing content-delivery apps like Hulu, Netflix, or any upstart e-bookstores that might want to be on the Fire." Still, she adds, "I'd be surprised if you ever find them there. Amazon has taken a closed, proprietary approach with the Kindle line, and I think it's more than a safe bet to say that this won't be the open Android tablet experience you've been hearing about with the Galaxy Tabs or the Xooms of the world. Not even close, in fact."

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