It looks like Amazon has finally learned the lesson of the razor: Sell a razor at a cut-rate price, and people will spend a lot of money buying blades. At its press conference today, the vendor introduced a new Kindle Touch for $99 -- a small E-Ink touchscreen version of its four-year-old Kindle ebook reader. It also introduced a 3G version of the Touch for $149 and a cut-rate version of its older Kindle for $79 (putting the Kindle into the category of an "impuse buy"). And most important, its new Kindle Fire for $199.
The Fire has a bright 7-in. backlit 1024 x 768 color multitouch display, 8GB of storage, and a new "cloud-accelerated" Web browser that the company calls "Amazon Silk." This came as a surprise, at least to me; it seems that Amazon is going into competition with Google and Apple in a big way. It weighs 14.6 oz., nicely lightweight. It has an interface based on Android Honeycomb, but, according to the rep (and according to what I saw), heavily tweaked.
The new Fire, which connects to the Web via Wi-Fi (no 3G), will be a great doorway to Amazon's widening stock of consumer offerings: the movies and TV shows that it is including on its Amazon Prime service (customers gets one month of free service), the songs on Amazon MP3, a variety of magazines and other periodicals (in its PR release, Amazon touts its 100 exclusive graphic novels -- it knows its audience), and of course Amazon's book store.
There were no hands-on opportunities immediately available at the event, but from a first look, the Fire may be a real force in the market. Like its predecessor, it offers free access to online downloads and, now, that Android-based interface. It will be interesting to see how tightly controlled Amazon will keep access to apps and other resources outside of its own market -- however, the idea that Amazon might be offering even a limited access to the Web on a product costs about half of the iPad is exciting.
Rumors about the upcoming Amazon tablet have been circulating over the past few weeks, and everybody seemed to think that this could be something new, or at least something that could be a real competitor in the mobile market. I've often been disappointed in heavily hyped tablet announcements, but in this case -- considering that Amazon is delivering a reasonably-priced Android device along with some very inexpensive e-readers -- the hype may turn out to be worth it.
We learned from the recent fire-sale of the HP TouchPad that people do want tablets and e-readers -- but when they're asked to pay over $300 for one, they have to think first. With Amazon's new offerings, they won't have to think as hard. And that's what can make a very successful product.
The table below shows the most recently announced tablets as reported by Computerworld. Click a tablet's name in the leftmost column to read a news story or review with more information about the device, or view a larger table with more details about each product.