Amazon Aims to Be King of All Portable Media Devices With the New Line of Kindles

I’m going to be totally upfront with you: I’m as big a fan of Amazon as I am of Google. I think they do a lot of great things, including MP3 selling, digital video streaming, app sales, and of course, e-readers. I’ve had my Kindle for about 2 years, and love it. When I read a print book, I sometimes miss the Kindle for its ease of use and annotation capabilities. It’s true that a lot of people haven’t jumped on the e-reader bandwagon (most of my students, college freshmen, don’t like them), but I think Amazon has a good opportunity to change that with their latest Kindles.

On Wednesday, Amazon held an event where they announced a new line of Kindle products. The first three were updates to their current line of Kindles.

The Latest Line of Kindles

The New Kindle Line

The first Kindle goes for $79 (or $105 sans ads) and is just like the traditional e-reader. The second is a Kindle with a touchscreen, called the Kindle Touch, and goes for $99 (or $139 sans ads). The last one is the Kindle Touch 3G, which comes complete with free 3G service, for $149 (or $189 sans ads). The later two also come with something called X-Ray, which will add a bunch of extra contextual information to whatever you’re reading, including Wikipedia entries.

While this new line is awesome (I’ll probably pick up the Kindle Touch), this was not the biggest announcement of the event. That, my friends, was the Kindle Fire.

The Kindle Fire

The Kindle Fire

The Kindle Fire is a $199 ($199!) 7 inch, Android-driven tablet. It will have a browser, email client, support Office docs and more. It will also use Amazon’s Whispersync to sync not only your books, but movies and TV shows from your Amazon account.

Silk Browser

The Kindle Fire will also come with a brand new browser called Silk, which will reportedly be super-fast by using a caching technique that will partially pre-load popular websites. The beat on the street is that it’s super fast!

Android but Not Android

While the Kindle Fire is based on Android (2.3), you can’t really tell it’s an Android device. There is app support, but no Android Market or other stock Google apps. The UI is totally different: no app drawer or home screen widgets. Though I haven’t read a firm confirmation, I’m guessing that access to the Amazon Appstore and Amazon MP3 store will be there.

Focus on Speed and Responsiveness

Early reports from those who have demoed the Kindle Fire have all said that the device is incredibly fast and responsive, which fixes what is far and away the biggest complaint I’ve heard about Android devices. This was a great move on Amazon’s part, and consistent with the Kindle line: it’s easy to use and is great at what it’s made for. The original line of Kindles is great for reading books and focused solely on that. The Kindle Fire seems to be running a stripped-down version of Android that does what tablet users want – browse the web and consume media.

What This Means for Other Tablets

So what does this mean for other tablets? Well, the first thing to note is the Amazon is making an incredibly compelling argument by selling this thing for $199. It’s at least $300 less than most tablets, including the iPad 2, Galaxy Tab, and Playbook. It’s also incredibly fast, syncs with your Amazon account, and allows you to browse the web. In short, it’s the perfect media device. I think if people were having a hard time purchasing the iPad (mostly due to price tag), they will pick up the Kindle Fire.

As far as other device go, I think it’s already ahead of the curve; it looks better and faster than most other tablets and it’s backed by Amazon. It’s a cheap device that delivers a high-end user experience.

Of course, it’s not perfect.

As I said before, the Kindle Fire is a media device. Yes it will support email with a native app, and yes it will support Office documents. However, I don’t think it will be a replacement for a laptop, or even another tablet built more for constant travel. I do think it will bridge the gap of tablet functionality and affordability.

Is It an iPad Killer?

In short: no. The people who want an iPad will still probably buy an iPad. This is for people who want a tablet but don’t want to break the bank. There is also a functional difference between the Kindle Fire and the iPad; the iPad touts productivity on top of media. The Kindle Fire wants to be king of the media devices, with just enough support for email and Office documents to make the purchase worth while.

I do think it’s bad news for other Android tablets that are more expensive than the Kindle Fire. While I wouldn’t trade in my Galaxy Tab (size is a big factor), if the Kindle Fire was out when I was looking to buy a tablet, it might have been a much tougher decision.