|EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 2641 - September 29, 2011 - ISSN 1539-5065 1 of 3|
Amazon on Wednesday unveiled a major overhaul of its Kindle family of e-reading devices, including the introduction of the Kindle Fire, the online retail giant's long-anticipated entry into the tablet market.
With a retail mark of $199, the Fire is priced to undercut established offerings like Apple's iPad, Samsung's Galaxy Tab and Research In Motion's PlayBook.
And indeed, with a screen size of seven inches, the Kindle Fire is smaller than the iPad and other tablets and carries fewer features. There is no camera or microphone, and Internet connectivity is only available through Wi-Fi, rather than the 3G wireless networks that deliver zippy speeds on other tablets. However, the Kindle Fire is built with a custom-built browser, dubbed Silk, that Amazon developed to sync with its EC2 cloud computing service, tapping into its substantial computing muscle to speed along the Web-browsing experience.
"Kindle Fire brings together all of the things we've been working on at Amazon for over 15 years into a single, fully-integrated service for customers," CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement. "We're offering premium products, and we're doing it at non-premium prices."
Amazon is currently taking preorders for the device, with plans to begin shipping on Nov. 15, just as the holiday shopping season kicks into high gear. Amazon is also positioning the device to support its core ecommerce business, including an Amazon shopping app preloaded.
In addition to the tablet - certainly the most anticipated announcement from Wednesday's launch - Amazon also rolled out three other new additions to the Kindle product line. At the low end, Amazon is bringing out a six-inch, lightweight reader priced at $79 that the company says is pocket-sized. In the mid-range, priced at $99, Amazon unveiled the Kindle Touch, sporting a touch-screen display and a new technology dubbed "X-Ray," which enables users to explore the interconnections within a book, linking all passages that mention a given character or idea, for instance. X-Ray is the culmination of an internal development project in language processing and machine learning, drawing on the computing and storage resources in the S3 and EC2 environments.
The fourth device that Amazon announced comes in the form of the Kindle Touch 3G, offering a similar array of features as the mid-tier touch-screen reader, with the added benefit of 3G connectivity.
Taken together, the latest crop of Kindles signifies a clear strategy on Amazon's part to compete on price, both in the dedicated e-reader space and with the new tablet computer.
"We've now reached the magical two-digit price point for Kindle - twice," Bezos said. "Kindle Touch 3G is the new top of the line e-reader with free 3G - no monthly fees or annual contracts - and is only $149."
Amazon's tablet strategy is also deeply rooted in one of its core strengths - a catalog of media content larger than that available from any other tablet maker save for Apple. That means access to more than 100,000 movies and television shows available for streaming or downloading through a purchase or rental model. Amazon's MP3 catalog includes more than 17 million songs. That comes on top of the massive book collection and digital subscription offers for hundreds of newspapers and magazines. Amazon is offering Kindle Fire customers a free three-month trial to 17 Condé Nast titles, and has secured exclusive rights to digital editions of 100 graphic novels. Kindle Fire customers will also receive a free one-month trial of Amazon Prime, a subscription service that offers customers free two-day shipping and access to Amazon's media content.
The Android-powered tablet will also offer developers a new avenue develop and promote apps.
So how disruptive of a force will the Kindle Fire be? According to Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps, it is a credible entry into a market dominated by high-end devices, and its price point, content strategy and developer appeal carve out a niche that poses a more serious threat to the device makers that are playing catch-up to Apple than to Apple itself.
"Amazon will sell millions of tablets, and the rapid-fire adoption of the Kindle Fire will give app developers a reason - finally - to develop Android tablet apps," Epps said. "Apple's place as market leader is secure, but Amazon will be a strong number two, and we expect no other serious tablet competitors until Windows 8 tablets launch."
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About the author:
Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects since 2007, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. He can be found on LinkedIn here.
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