Amazon Pits Kindle Fire Against Apple's iPad

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Amazon challenged Apple's iPad today by releasing the Kindle Fire, a tablet that costs just $199. Amazon's new droid will be one of four models, including one that retails for only $80.

The Kindle Fire will offer games, films, music, web browsing and books. The Android device is smaller than an iPad with a 7-inch color screen, but can store 100,000 films or 17 million songs. Unlike the iPad, it won't need to dock with a computer for content, but can wirelessly connect to Amazon's 'Whispersync' service.

During his announcement of the new tablet, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said the Kindle Fire is an "unbelievable value" and will go on sale on November 15.

Amazon also unveiled its Internet browser, Amazon Silk, which Amazon claims will speed up browsing by 20 times. It uses Amazon's 'cloud computing' service EC2 to speed up browsing by referring some tasks to Amazon's servers.

The price of the Kindle Fire is certainly a huge plus, undercutting Apple's iPad by several hundred dollars. Perhaps this will force Apple to drop its prices for the iPad, which would be good news for potential iPad users.

The Kindle Fire does face some drawbacks. The biggest? It lacks the e-ink technology made popular by the more basic Kindle readers.

So this begs the question: Why did Amazon call this device a Kindle? It lacks the primary function of an actual Kindle -- e-reading capability -- which is sure to confuse potential people who think they're getting a souped-up e-reading device. They're really not. Instead, they're getting a cheaper tablet. If they want a Kindle Fire and a great e-reader, they'll need to own two Kindles.

One question that isn't clear is whether the Kindle Fire will play Flash programs, which the iPad does not, due to Apple CEO Steve Jobs' ongoing feud with Adobe, the makers of Flash.

Amazon did not allow any reporters or reviewers to handle the device.

On the web, Gizmodo gave the Kindle Fire a thumbs up: "This is incredible. This is a killer price for a color tablet. Even while it doesn't match the iPad's features, there's going to be some fierce competition this year."

Likewise, Amazon's Silk browser met approval from reviewers at TechCrunch: "It's not a terribly new concept, but it's one that could make a huge difference in a user's web experience."

Some worry Amazon may have rushed in with the Kindle Fire as it is similar to BlackBerry's PlayBook, which bombed. However, Amazon does have an advantage that BlackBerry does not, a huge library of electronic entertainment to sell via their device.

Amazon's willingness to sell the Kindle Fire at a loss is probably because they want to sell more e-books, films and music. Even iPad consumers often prefer buying books via Amazon, because of its discounts and enormous selection.

Who will win the battle of the tablets? Amazon or Apple? Tell us what you think.

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