$199 tablet offers seamless connection to e-merchant's massive catalog of online books, videos, songs, and movies.
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"I suggest you pre-order today," said Jeff Bezos. That's how confident Amazon's CEO is that his new touch-based Kindle Fire media tablet will be the hot seller of the holiday shopping season. "We're going to sell millions," said Bezos at a launch event Wednesday inside a sweaty arts theater on Manhattan's West side.
Bezos might be right. Kindle Fire, which ships Nov. 15, boasts an impressive array of specs, including a new kind of browser that hands off time-consuming tasks to big servers in Amazon's massive data center and a direct connection to the company's vast trove of online print, music, and video content.
It's also got price on its side. At $199, it's $300 cheaper than the least expensive iPad 2. "We're offering premium products, at non-premium prices," said Bezos. It was a mantra he would repeat, word for word, several times throughout the event.
But some analysts believe Apple shouldn't worry just yet. With a 7-inch screen, Kindle Fire is a good bit smaller than iPad 2 and its 9.7-inch display. "That's a significant real-estate issue for magazines and newspapers," said Gartner analyst Allen Weiner. He sees the Kindle Fire as more a direct competitor to Barnes & Noble's Nook Color, for now.
But Apple's advantage may be short-lived. Weiner is convinced Amazon will introduce a 10-inch version of Kindle Fire by mid-2012 "because the market will call for it."
If pre-launch hype is any measure, that's all but certain. Amazon introduced Kindle Fire to a packed room of journalists while satellite trucks from CNBC, Fox, and other major news organizations lined the streets outside. Protesters gave out flyers that claimed Amazon is killing small businesses and state coffers by not charging sales tax. Inside, reporters from outlets ranging from The Wall Street Journal to obscure blogs scribbled or typed notes while Bezos talked up the Kindle line.
"Let the fervor begin," said Bezos, as he first unveiled three enhanced versions of the existing Kindle, with big price cuts. The New Kindle Touch will sell for $99, or $149 for the 3G model. A basic, non-touch model is now available for just $79.
Bezos, in jeans, white shirt, and a blazer, then moved on to the main event. He recapped Amazon's available cloud offerings--from more than 100,000 movies and TV shows, to a catalog of 17,000 songs, more than 1 million e-books, and online newspapers and a virtual newsstand that includes The New Yorker, USA Today, Cosmopolitan, and other major titles.
"We asked ourselves, 'Is there a way that we can bring all of these together in a remarkable product offering?'" Bezos said. "The answer is yes; it's called Kindle Fire." He then showed off a number of the touch-tablet's more impressive features.
The Android-based device has a LCD screen that displays 16 million colors in high-resolution (1024 x 600). In-plane switching technology provides wide viewing angles. A dual-core processor, said to be from Texas Instruments, keeps everything snappy. The device checks in at 14.6 ounces, making it easy enough to hold in one hand.
Its real differentiator, however, is a new kind of browser, called Silk, which performs some functions locally while handing off other tasks to Amazon's EC2 cloud data center. Amazon claims that makes Silk faster than competing mobile browsers, like Apple's Safari. "It's an incredible technical achievement," said Bezos.
Noticeably absent, at least until the next version, is a camera of any kind. That's an omission Apple and other rival tablet makers, including RIM, with its PlayBook, and Samsung and its Galaxy entry, will look to exploit.
Nonetheless, Bezos is confident Kindle Fire is a game changer. "This is incredible value. We're building premium products, at non-premium prices," he said again, in case the point didn't sink in the first several times.
See InformationWeek.com's video coverage from the Amazon launch event:
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