Amazon unveiled its new tablet on Wednesday — increasing chatter that it might be a worthy competitor to the iPad when it goes on sale on November 15. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos introduced the "game-changing" Kindle Fire, which boasts a seven-inch color touchscreen and a $199 price tag (half the cost of the cheapest iPad). After tablets from HP, Motorola, and Research in Motion failed to woo consumers, Amazon's Fire might just turn high-tech's "newest theater of war... into a two-tablet battle," says Brad Stone at Bloomberg. Here, five talking points:
1. Amazon is clearly going after Apple
The Kindle Fire is all about consuming media — "and consuming it directly from Amazon," says Nathan Olivarez-Giles at the Los Angeles Times. Its Android operating system is customized so that Amazon's media and app stores are the "focus of the user experience." And Amazon's "powerful inventory" of books, movies, TV shows, and digital music make it a "formidable foe" to Apple, says Steven Levy at Wired. "Its goal is not selling hardware, but selling the media that runs on the device." A new deal with Fox recently increased Amazon's library of movies and TV shows to 11,000 videos, all of which can be streamed for free with a membership to Amazon Prime (a $79-per-year service that also gives members free two-day shipping on purchases). A free trial of Prime is included in the price of the Fire.
2. The Fire boasts the best web browser of any tablet
Silk, the web browser Amazon developed to run on Fire, is superior to the browsers used on competing tablets, says Levy. It uses a homegrown technology called "split browsing," says Clint Boulton at eWeek, which divides data processing between the device and Amazon's web services cloud. That creates what is essentially a "cloud-accelerated mobile browser." In other words, says Levy, it's really, really fast. "Oh, and it also runs Flash. Take that, iPad."
3. There are still shortcomings
Unlike the iPad 2, the Fire lacks an embedded camera or microphone, says Stone, and is only available for Wi-Fi use; there's no 3G cellular connection. And while its "diminutive size" makes it coat-pocket-friendly, its smaller screen is unlikely to "satisfy more than one antsy kid on a long car ride." And remember, says Scott Stein at CNET, among Apple's claims to fame is its "astounding assortment of apps and games." While the Fire's app library is a good start, it just can't compete with the iPad in that department.
4. There's also an impressive new Kindle e-reader
The Fire isn't Amazon's only new upcoming product: The Kindle Touch, a lighter-weight version of Amazon's popular e-reader, will be available for just $99 (or $149 with 3G wireless connectivity). Unlike the current Kindle, it has no keyboard and uses a touchscreen. "Users navigate by tapping the sides of the screen," says Jenna Wortham at The New York Times. But it's the new, "slimmer and lighter" traditional Kindle being sold for just $79 — and available immediately — that's the big e-reader announcement, says Levy.
5. Amazon doesn't have to unseat Apple to succeed
Even if Fire doesn't manage to knock the iPad off the tablet throne, it will undoubtedly affect Amazon's other competitors, says Levy. Barnes and Noble's Nook, for one, is "now outflanked by a more versatile color device and a very affordable e-reader." But the biggest loser may be Netflix. The Fire may be an alternative for Netflix customers still outraged by a price hike and other changes. Amazon Prime's bargain $79-a-year price is now being offered on a "nifty device." If Amazon continues to build its library, "it will be the logical place for disaffected Netflixsters to land."