With Rekindled Kindle, Amazon Lights a Fire Under Apple


Amazon today unveiled “Found new Kindles, four amazing price points,” but it was the top-end of the range that’s garnering the most attention.

The $199 Kindle Fire (available Nov. 15) is burning up Twitter and Facebook, with consumers poring over the just-released details of the tablet computer seen as a direct shot across the bow of Apple’s iPad.

More than ‘just’ an e-reader, the smaller and cheaper-than-an-iPad Kindle Fire has a 7-inch display, Wi-Fi connectivity, (but not 3G access) comes with a 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime and runs on Google’s Android software.

Announced at a press event in New York, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos sees Kindle Fire — the flagship device in its newly expanded Kindle line — as more than just a tablet — it’s a digital hub and services platform that leads right to his store.[more]

Kindle Fire‘s key features, as outlined in Amazon’s press release

Movies, apps, games, music, reading and more, plus Amazon’s revolutionary, cloud-accelerated web browser:

• 18 million movies, TV shows, songs, magazines, and books 

• Amazon Appstore – thousands of popular apps and games 

• Ultra-fast web browsing – Amazon Silk (more on that below)

• Free cloud storage for all your Amazon content 

• Vibrant color touchscreen with extra-wide viewing angle 

• Fast, powerful dual-core processor 

• Amazon Prime members enjoy unlimited, instant streaming of over 10,000 popular movies and TV shows  

“Amazon is really the only other guy, the only other potential tablet player, that has a similar offering to what Apple has,” commented Brian Blair analyst at Wedge Partners Corp. to Bloomberg News.  “If you look across their product offerings, they have content that none of the other tablet makers currently have because they have content on the media side.”

Forrester projects the tablet market to grow 51% annually through 2015, and consumer reaction to the Kindle Fire will be critical in Amazon’s growth. Neither RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook nor HP’s TouchPad have nudged Apple’s iPad market dominance, as 68% of all tablets shipped globally in Q2 2011 were iPads according to research firm IDC. 

Even with clout and content, skeptics like Blair are dubious Kindle Fire has the heat, telling Bloomberg: “I don’t actually believe 7-inch is going to be a viable tablet for anybody. It’s a ‘tweener.’ A real tablet offering has got to be a 10-inch screen.” 

Amazon also unveiled Kindle Touch, an e-book reader priced at $149 with Whispernet mobile connectivity and a $99 Wi-Fi 3G version. Users can swipe the page to turn the screen and type on an on-screen keyboard that slumbers when idle.

A lower price-point Kindle (priced to move at $79!) with traditional side buttons weighs in under six ounces. “At $79, it’s really going to blow people away,” said Jeff Bezos. An X-Ray feature on all e-ink Kindles enables second file receipt with information about book characters and settings from sources including Wikipedia and Amazon-owned Shelfari.  

Bezos positioned Kindle Fire as one part of an integrated media service that includes Amazon Prime’s 11,000 videos and purchasers who are not Prime members get a three-month free tryout and software that organizes music purchased or uploaded to Amazon via its cloud music service unveiled earlier this year.

That was the cue for another new Amazon digital brand: the “Silk” web browser powering Kindle Fire, described as fast, strong and almost invisible, leveraging home-grown technology called “split browsing” and Flash-enabled.

Bezo’s commitment to e-ink readers makes the release of Kindle Fire, the first of backlit, heavier Amazon devices somewhat contradictory. Asked which gadget people will choose, his answer, “They’re going to buy both.” 

Beyond the consumer excitement, Kindle Fire opens new revenue opportunities for publishers and opens the door for Amazon to create its own ad network, as ClickZ notes. As for whether it stands a chance of taking a serious bite out of Apple’s iPad market share, CNET’s Molly Wood quips “yes — it’s the price, stupid,” while ZDNet’s Larry Dignan blogs that Amazon just “split the tablet market” with Apple.

In an interview last year with Wired, Bezos said: “The number one app for the iPad when I checked a couple of days ago was called Angry Birds—a game where you throw birds at pigs and they blow up. The number one thing on the Kindle is (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo author) Stieg Larsson. It’s a different audience. We’re designing for people who want to read.” (Although don’t miss the familiar red feathered bird on the Kindle Fire image released by Amazon, above!)

Below, read Amazon’s letter to customers today (and click here to watch its new commercials supporting the Kindle brand relaunch):