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Yes, Amazon watchers, it's a tablet

After a year of teasing, Amazon finally reveals the Fire, a $199 color tablet with all the Amazon books, movies, TV shows, music, and apps you can eat.

The Kindle family.

The Kindle family. Amazon.com

(NOTE: This report is based primarily on live blogging of an Amazon press conference this morning (9/28/11) by Engadget and BGR, both outstanding online sources for consumer electronics reporting.)

So now we know. 

Amazon finally flipped open the book this morning on its long-secret often-rumored but never confirmed tablet.  It’s called the Amazon Kindle Fire, it’s got a 7-inch color screen, it’s chock-full of media content — books, movies, TV shows, magazines, music, and Android apps—and it will only cost $199. 

After a year of teasing the public, Amazon finally confirmed to a packed New York press conference that it did in fact have a tablet. Or more accurately, 4 tablets: the color Fire; 2 new black and white touch-screen readers — a first for Amazon, and a revision of its non-touch screen reader.  Here’s Amazon’s on-line link to this morning's announcements.

At Stage 37, a popular Manhattan event venue, Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos revealed the color tablet that, as predicted, brings together all its online consumer services. They're now available in a lightweight 14.6 ounce package that appears to be slightly larger than today’s black and white Kindle (7.5 by 4.7 inches and less than a half-inch thick, according to the Amazon website).

The services include Amazon’s Web Services, Prime, Kindle, Instant Video, MP3, and the AppStore. Beson listed that content as 100,000 movies and TV shows, 17 million songs, apps, and full-color magazines.  

The tablet is built on an Android operating system — in fact, apps from Amazon’s Android App Store can be downloaded and used on the Fire — but it’s clearly a tablet dedicated to fun stuff, rather than a productivity machine. While it will handle email and contact lists, there’s no on-board camera nor on-board mic.

There was also no mention of Google. Whether access to the Google/Android Market, Google Docs, Google Maps, etc. will be available is anyone’s guess. There appear to be no extra USB ports (other than the power port), and no Bluetooth or SD card slots.

It features a sharp 16 million color Gorilla glass multi-touch screen, an ultra-wide viewing angle, a 1-GHz dual-core OMAP processor and 8 gigabytes of on-board data storage.  Free cloud storage is available for all digital content purchased from Amazon.  Promised battery life is up to 8 hours of continuous reading or 7.5 hours of video playback. And this initial tablet release is a WiFi-only device.

There will be web browsing using a new browser, Amazon Silk, that will intelligently render pages either in the Internet cloud or on the Fire tablet.  Cloud-based rendering promises to deliver an ultra-fast browser service. Amazon Flash will be supported.

Whispersync, Amazon’s name for the service that allows you to read books on virtually any device, then pick up where you left off on any other device, will play a role on the Fire. Bezos gave an example of watching a movie on the tablet and picking it up on a home TV capable of screening Amazon’s instant video. (Netflix users are familiar with this kind of service.)

Delivery for the new tablet is scheduled for November 15, and pre-orders are being taken on the Amazon website.

In the black and white tablet arena, Amazon obviously saw the need to become competitive with the surging touch-screen Barnes and Noble Nook Simple Touch Reader, and introduced both a WiFi only touch screen Kindle, now renamed the Amazon Touch, at $99, and a WiFi and 3G model at $149. The latter version will be available in 100 countries and, for $50, will allow lifetime wireless downloading of books. This could be an impressive seller overseas.

It also introduced a $79 non-touch-screen Touch. This version, however, appears to have no keyboard, unlike past Kindles.  Its other capabilities were not disclosed at press time.

The black and white readers will offer a new research service called X-ray which lets readers pull up in-depth information about characters, names and places mentioned in Amazon books.  Besos noted that Amazon will have pre-calculated all of these important phrases, and will deliver books with that information already earmarked.


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