Kindle Fire tablet released as Amazon challenges iPad dominance

Amazon unveiled its tablet computer, the US$199 Android-based Kindle Fire, on Wednesday during a Manhattan launch event.

The Wi-Fi-only tablet has 8GB of storage, with a 1GHz dual-core TexasInstruments’ OMAP (Open Multimedia Application Processor), while thedisplay is backlit LCD with a resolution of 1024 x 600. The Fire has a7-inch multitouch LCD display and weighs 14.6 ounces. It has apps for Amazon storefronts, including itsAndroid app store, MP3, video and cloud services. Unlike iPad 2 andother competitors, the Fire does not have a camera or microphone, butits price and Amazon’s proven content will undoubtedly make it aserious threat to steal market share. It comes with free cloud storagefor data back up.

The Kindle Fire is available forpreorder starting Wednesday, and it will begin shipping on Nov. 15.

The Kindle Fire runs on Google’s Android OS.

“This is unbelievable value,” said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, during thelaunch event. “These are premium products at non-premium prices.”

The device will have access to content on Amazon’s site such as 100,000movies and TV shows, 17 million songs, apps, millions of books andfull-color magazines, Bezos said.

Bezos demonstrated a high-definition movie playing on the tablet, andthe Fruit Ninja game being played. The display can show 16 millioncolors and is based on Gorilla Glass technology for extra protection.TI’s dual-core OMAP processor is based on an ARM processor design,which is found in most tablets today including Apple’s iPad.

Analysts were pleasantly surprised by the price.

“The price seems to be right,” said David Daoud, research director atIDC.

Kindle Fire is the second major $199 tablet unveiled after Lenovoannounced the $199 Ideapad A1 tablet earlier this month. Thespecifications are good, and could get more users to buy the devicecompared to other Android tablets, he said.

“Amazon, being a content company, that’s going to add value to thetablet market,” Daoud said.

Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner, said the tablet was a mediaconsumption device at an aggressive price point, and could drive tabletadoption.

While the Kindle e-book reader is a good way to bring access toe-books, the Kindle Fire is a good way to bring access to other mediaoffered by the company.

“For 15 years we’ve been building our media business,” Bezos said. “Wehave strong digital offers in every media category.”

Amazon’s media content can already be watched on TVs, Blu-ray drivesand other devices. The songs downloadable through the site are priced starting at $0.69 and can be streamed through the Cloud Player. Apps from Amazon’s App Store can be test driven in a sandbox prior todownload.

Kindle Fire joins a crowded tablet market dominated by Apple’s iPad, which is projectedto have a 73.4 percent market share by the end of the year, accordingto research firm Gartner. Gartner expects worldwide tablet sales of63.6 million units this year, a 261.4 percent increase from theprevious year. Tablet sales should reach 326.3 million units by 2015,Gartner said.

The competitive pressure will be on other Android tablet makers morethan the iPad, Daoud said. Android tablet makers are mostly hardwaremakers and lack software and services, and being a content ande-commerce enabler, Amazon is moving the needle forward for Androidtablets, he said.

Apple has a big user base, so the jury is out on how this tablet willimpact the iPad, Daoud said.

Amazon’s tablet could become the “only credible iPad competitor in themarket,” said Sarah Rotman Epps, senior analyst at Forrester Research ina blog entry last month. Amazon’s Kindle e-readers and onlinestore already are popular, and Amazon will use its entertainmentofferings and cloud infrastructure to boost the tablet’s appeal.

Amazon offers 100,000 movies and TV shows through its instant streamingservice via deals with CBS, NBC Universal, Sony, and Warner Bros. OnMonday, Amazon and Fox forged a deal to deliver TV shows and moviesthrough Amazon’s streaming service. Amazon offers 950,000 e-books thatcan be instantly downloaded or read through the Kindle Cloud service.Amazon also offers the Cloud Drive service, in which users get 5GB freeto store music, videos, photos or documents, and the Cloud Player musicstreaming service.

The iPad has an attractive user interface and cohesive set of software,entertainment and services, which has given it an edge over rivals suchas tablets based on Google’s Android OS. Adoption problems have doggedAndroid tablets because of high prices and lack of software andservices. But Amazon could sell 3 million to 5 million tablets by theend of the year, given the price of the Kindle Fire, Epps said, beforethe price was publicly known. She said then that if Amazon priced itstablet under $300 it could reach those numbers.

Bezos also debuted the Kindle Touch e-reader at theevent. The Touch will cost $99. It also will come in a 3D-capableversion. Both will ship on Nov. 21.

The touch capabilities are based on infrared technology, and makes iteasier to switch pages, he said. Tapping can also help switch pages inan e-book easily — tapping the top side of the screen loads the menu,tapping the small area on the left side moves to previous pages, andtapping the lower right area moves a page forward.

“When people do long-form reading, they love to switch hands,” Bezossaid.

The Kindle Touch tablet retains the e-ink display and has Wi-Fi. AKindle Touch with 3G is priced at $149.

A basic Kindle is priced at $79 as of Wednesday, Bezos also announced.

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