Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet, new e-readers target low-cost market
When Amazon gathered technology and publishing journalists for a press conference in New York on Wednesday, there was a buzz of excitement. The online bookseller was ready to debut its long-rumored tablet, the Kindle Fire.
The product itself wasn't all that exciting: it's a lot like the iPad, in that it can play movies and music. It retains its bookish roots by storing media on virtual shelves (pictured, right). The real news about the Kindle Fire is its bargain-basement price: $199.
That was the upshot of all the devices Amazon's Jeff Bezos presented: familiar, but cheaper.
$79 Kindle: Like the established and popular Kindle, but lighter and without the keyboard across the bottom (photo, at left).
$99 Kindle Touch: Like the Nook or Kobo, control of the Kindle touch is on the screen. It's an e-reader only, and, for a few dollars more, can be ad-free ($139) and connect with 3G ($159). See our Technology Blog for more info.
$199 Kindle Fire: A full-color multimedia tablet. Some say it's positioned to be an iPad killer; others say its low price will crash the rest of the tablet market. See our Technology Blog's report on the Kindle Fire.
The tactic Amazon seems to be taking is creating its own versions of established products and selling them for irresistibly low prices.
Amazon wasn't the first to introduce an e-reader, but when it debuted its e-ink Kindle in 2007, it became the market leader. That first Kindle, with fewer features, retailed for $400; Kindles this Christmas season will cost less than a fourth of that.
The products that its new e-readers are positioned to compete with are Barnes & Noble's Nook and the Kobo, both of which already have touchscreen editions. Amazon’s Kindle Touch undercuts the Kobo’s price by $30 and the e-ink Nook’s by $40; will those prices come down to compete? Amazon, with its go-to storefront and broad customer base, seems ready and able to shoulder aside its e-book competitors.
Can Amazon's tablet be an iPad killer? The price sure makes it attractive -- you can get two Amazon tablets for the price of one Apple iPad and have $100 left over for some e-books. Or maybe for movies instead.
Amazon may be setting its sights on the increasingly vulnerable Netflix as a provider of streaming filmed entertainment. Amazon, which launched Amazon Prime Instant viewing in February, signed a deal this summer to stream CBS content and announced a partnership with Fox to stream 6,000 more titles. As long as you’re accessing material in Amazon’s cloud, the new Kindle Fire can know where you left off watching that episode of “Arrested Development” on your TV and pick up from there.
The easy access to content -- and familiarity with Amazon as a retailer -- may give the Kindle Fire an edge when it comes to entering the tablet market. Other Android tablets have struggled to find a foothold against Apple, including HP's Touchpad and Blackberry's PlayBook.
Another edge will be the price. The PlayBook and Touchpad set their retail price at around $500; the Blackberry reportedly cost more than $300 to manufacture. Amazon has said it is losing money on the Kindle Fire devices; $199 is priced to sell.
But sometimes a bargain just feels cheap. Take the new Kindle advertisement -- it's after the jump.
The ad is cringeworthy. It makes you embarrassed to be someone who might want an e-reader at all.
Nevertheless, Amazon has priced its new devices to sell, and sell they will.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Amazon's new Kindle, Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire tablet. Credit: Amazon, for the individual images, Collage, Carolyn Kellogg