Amazon Ups the Ante with 7” & 8.9” Kindle Fire HD

| Analysis

Amazon has upped the ante in its bid to be a player in the media tablet market. The online retailing giant announced the Kindle fire HD Thursday with two flavors, a 7-inch device starting at US$199 and an 8.9-inch device starting at $299, with an additional $499 version that includes LTE.

Both devices are significant steps up from the original Kindle Fire introduced in the fall of 2011. At $199, the original Kindle Fire was notable mostly for being cheap, with all of the connotations that word carries.

Starting at the same $199, the new Kindle Fire HD is still inexpensive, but from a spec perspective, it significantly narrows the gap in quality to the Google Nexus 7, which is also priced at $199. We should note that the Google Nexus 7 still offers more in the way of gadgets, functionality, and technical features.

We also feel it's important to note that the Kindle Fire HD runs a forked version of Android (unknown version as of this writing) that Amazon has skinned to be a conduit to Amazon content. It doesn't offer users access to any Google services or apps.

7-Inch

Kindle Fire HD 7

Kindle Fire HD 7-Inch

The 7-inch Kindle Fire HD has a 1200 x 800 resolution and comes in either 16GB ($199) or 32GB ($249) models. Amazon is also offering free Amazon Cloud storage for the device, but only for Amazon content.

That resolution supports up to 720p HD videos, and notably, it now supports 10-point multi-touch, up from two-point multitouch on the original Kindle Fire.

It features a dual-antenna Wi-Fi that Amazon claims offers 40 percent faster throughput than the iPad, which the company called "the next fastest tablet."

It's powered by a Dual-core 1.2GHz OMAP 4460 processor, and Amazon claims it offers 11 hours of continuous use battery life.

The device measures 7.6 inches x 5.4 inches x 0.4 inches, and it weighs 13.9 ounces. For sound, it features Dolby Audio dual driver stereo speakers, and for wired connectivity it has a USB 2.0 micro-B port.

This model ships on September 14th.

8.9-Inch

Kindle Fire HD 8.9

Kindle Fire HD 8.9-Inch

Starting at $299, the 8.9-inch device offers a lot more bang for the buck, starting with the display. While Amazon doesn't tout the pixels per inch (PPI) rating of the 7-inch device, the company is quick to boast that the 1920 x 1200 resolution of the 8.9-inch model features 254 PPI, which is "indistinguishable to the human eye" (the company does not call it a Retina Display).

The device is also built with Gorilla Glass, the same substance Apple uses for the iPad. It weighs 20 ounces, and measures 9.45 inches x 6.5 inches x 0.35 inches.

It comes with either 16GB ($299) or 32GB ($369), and the LTE version has either 32GB ($499) or 64GB ($599). It also includes free Amazon Cloud storage for Amazon content, and includes the same Dolby Audio dual driver stereo speakers, and a USB 2.0 micro-B port.

Amazon is also quite proud of the IPS (in-plane switching) technology used for the display, what it calls an advanced polarizing filter, and anti-glare technology that it says, "reduces glare by 25% relative to the latest generation iPad."

It also has the dual antenna, dual-band, and MIMO Wi-Fi system. According to Amazon, "This is the first time this state-of-the-art Wi-Fi technology has been offered in a tablet, resulting in 40% faster throughput compared to the latest generation iPad."

The 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD ships on November 20th. Kindle Fire HD 8.9" 4G also ships on November 20th.

The original Kindle Fire is now available for $159, even though the company announced in late August that it was "sold out."

We should note that Apple is expected to unveil a 7.x-inch iPad mini some time this fall, possibly in October.

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Amazon should get a pat on the back for bringing such a dramatically improved device to market. The price points remain competitive, and that's especially the case for the 8.9-inch version.

The reality however, is that the 7-inch device lags far behind the Google Nexus 7. It narrows the gap compared to last year's model, but it absolutely doesn't close it.

Will Amazon sell some of these for Christmas? Absolutely, but Amazon sold a ton of the original Kindle Fires for Christmas last year, and many of them wound up collecting dust on a shelf or under the bed.

Since Amazon is all about making money on services and selling goods through these devices after they are sold, the key will be whether or not this year's models see more use after they land in consumer hands. I think they will. The Kindle Fire HD, while it doesn't match the Nexus 7 or Apple's iPad, is likely to be a far more usable device than its predecessor.

One more thing: With the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HD both starting at $199, it is going to be very interesting to see what Apple does with the iPad mini. The company has a chance of wielding its superior supply chain and volume pricing to crush both of the other devices.

There is a sort of reverse pricing pressure on Apple, however: Amazon is happy to lose money (or at least not make any money) on its Kindle Fire HD sales because its goal is to earn content profits and market share. Google was keen on subsidizing the Nexus 7 (we don't believe there is much in the way of hardware profits built into that device) because it was imperative to get Android's big toe into the iPad door.

Apple has the above-mentioned superior supply chain and economy-of-scale benefits, but Apple has to make hardware profits. How that will effect the retail price of the iPad mini remains to be seen, and we can't wait to see the results.

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Comments

wab95

That Amazon makes its money, not at the point of sale, but when consumers use their products, is a point that JB made during his interview today, while making it clear that Amazon are targeting Apple’s iPad.

Of note, the subsidy is provided by compulsory adverts on every model. They clearly intend to compete only on the content consumption side.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Somewhere in the Engadget coverage is confirmation that it runs Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0.x) underneath. The key feature to look for is side-loading (“allow software from unknown sources”). The original KFire had it on day one despite all the speculation that it wouldn’t or couldn’t because of Amazon’s business model, hatred of Google, or because Jeff Bezos didn’t get chosen to play Kevin Spacey in some A&E Biography.

Hands-on reports indicate that these have special offers on the home screen. Amazon’s recent data releases about Prime and customer loyalty and all that suggest that they’ve got a good story with features, pricing, and selling content/stuff. This is one thing that Google and Apple won’t be able to match because they aren’t Amazon. So long as they keep it fresh, relevant, and classy, these ads won’t be bothersome and will do what Amazon expects for revenues.

Bryan Chaffin

Agreed on the value of the ecosystem in relation to ads, Brad, but I think that some consumers will prefer the Nexus 7 or iPad mini simply because they don’t have ads.

Indeed, the ads could simply be customer self-selection for Amazon. Amazon may not want those for whom ads are a problem.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Spot on, Bryan. I’m not quite sure who the whole “we aren’t doing our job if customers aren’t using and buying” and “aligning our interests” things in Bezos’ presentation were aimed at. Maybe investors who are gonna flip their lids when they see the (static) iSupply reports. I hope this is more influence than control. Choosing influence (“we’d like you to…”) instead of control (lock it down) on the original KFire is what let them escape a niche competition with Nook Color/Tablet and vault to that 20% area. It’s like a garden without any walls. A real honest to goodness garden! Well, maybe with a billboard.

b9bot

Note that if you want a Kindle Fire HD, all the apps and media bought for the other versions are not supported. You have to re-purchase all your apps and media again for the Kindle Fire HD. To me this is a deal breaker.
The other deal breaker is this unknown Android system software. Will Amazon update it, or will you end up having to re-purchase another Kindle Fire HD, apps, and media again when the next version comes out.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

@b9bot: Where did you get that idea? Have you ever purchased media or apps from Amazon? Your media is available from the cloud and you can access it on any device you own that has a way to get to the Amazon cloud. Your apps can be used on multiple Android devices, not just KFire. And the ICS base probably has a usable shelf-life of 3-4 years now. It is a more than capable minimum target API level for just about anything a developer could imagine doing today.

Dan

If the 20GB storage is only for Amazon content, then it is an illusion.

It is just a version of iTunes match but limited to “purchased here”. It is likely that only pointers into the data base will be stored especially for a given customer. At most, it’ll cost them a few hundred meg.

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