Here are the Kindle Fire HD tablets, Amazon's new iPad competitors

Amazon bumped up the specs on the existing Kindle Fire today, but the big news is the undoubtedly the Kindle Fire HD 7-inch and Kindle Fire HD 8.9-inch tablets. Amazon, smartly, announced them not as "gadgets" but as "services" and positioned them as the best way to consumer Amazon content while also providing additional functionality like mail, web, and apps to round out the experience. Our own Kevin Michaluk, Stephane Koenig, and Ashley Esqueda were live at the event, and had a chance to check them out first-hand. (See the video above.)

We've already shown you how the new Kindle Fires match up to the iPad, Google Nexus 7, Microsoft Surface RT, and BlackBerry Playbook, but Amazon also had a lot of really interesting features to go along with their "Kindle as service" pitch.

  • The display looks great. At 1920x1200 and 254ppi, it's not quite as ridiculous as the iPad's 2048x1536, 264ppi Retina display, but no human is going to be able to tell the difference.
  • The speakers are stereo and have Dolby DIgital audio, which embarrasses the tiny, tinny iPad speakers (though former sound engineer David Barnard rightly points out, mobile devices will never be the best audio experience.)
  • They're priced not only to sell, but to kill. The 7-inch Kindle Fire starts at $199 and the 8.9-inch at $299. However, those prices are subsidized in part by "special offers", which are ads shown as screen savers, and by Amazon's expectation that you'll buy lots of content from Amazon to use on them. It's a razor-blades vs. razor model, the opposite of Apple, who runs iTunes just above break-even to make their hardware more attractive for you to buy. It would be nice to have an ad-free option.
  • Amazon is aiming the Kindle Fire HD Wi-Fi at 5Ghz only, which is a much clearer band. Almost all routers should support that now. They're also including two MIMO antennas (Jeff Bezos spent an almost awkward amount of time on this), so reception will be great.
  • Amazon's cloud storage is free and unlimited, though like Apple that appears to be constrained to the stuff you actually buy from them.
  • KindleTime allows parents to lockdown everything except book-reading. Videos, gaming, can all be limited, and the screen turns blue so parents can easily see it's engaged. That's a really smart. Profiles in general are really smart.
  • Like Apple's Game Center, Amazon is offering GameCircle to bring the social, competitive aspect to the Kindle Fire HD.
  • X-Ray for movies puts IMDB into the video, so you can tap the screen at any time to find out more about the actors and production you're watching. Likewise, X-Ray for books will tell you about what you're reading. This is either amazing or annoying, but I want to try it and hope it comes to the Amazon iPad video app and Kindle app.
  • Whispersync is now going to work with audio books, movies, and games as well. And if you have an audio and text book, you can use Immersion Reading to look and listen at the same time. Also a great feature.
  • There's also an LTE version of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9-inch which gives you a year's worth of data for only $50. That makes the TCO of a 32GB Kindle Fire HD 8.9-inch about $400 cheaper than an iPad 3 LTE over the course of a year. Or it would if Amazon didn't have an incredibly low data cap of 250mb a month on that LTE service... No word yet on whether or not you can get a beefier plan if, you know, you actually intend to use LTE on the device.

Some problems still remain, however. The Kindle Fire line is based on Android and runs Android apps, and Android has had almost not luck building any momentum for tablet apps. That means you'll mostly get smartphone-class apps, which essentially makes the Kindle Fire a big iPod touch. The iPad (and the rumored iPad mini run tablet-class apps, and that makes a huge difference.

Apple also sells the iPad in over 90 countries. Amazon has thus far only managed the U.S. and the U.K. for the Kindle Fire. That makes it a non-starter for most of the world, and that's a very big problem. iTunes was a huge international advantage for Apple, and if even Amazon and Google are having trouble getting content deals on a global level, it doesn't bode well for short term competitiveness.

Also, Amazon is even more closed and more draconian than Apple. So for those for whom Android is a welcome alternative to Apple's control, the Kindle Fire won't be any alternative at all. The trains will run on time, you just won't want to be on them. (Funny, though, how Apple gets marketed against, and called out as, being "closed" but Amazon hasn't faced any of that... yet.)

Lastly, while Amazon impressed with their products today, the presentation made me really appreciate just how good Apple is at providing clear, consistent information during their keynotes. Amazon told a story about what interested them (MIMO!), not what made things clear for viewers. They jumped around and never put up slides that showed product grids -- which devices had which specs at which price points. Apple almost always concludes with those. They tell you what they're going to show you, they show it to you, then they tell you what they showed you. Amazon would do well to nail that part of an event too.

Overall, however, Amazon's willingness to subsidize hardware with ads and content expectations create a pricing challenge for Apple. As North American cell phone contracts show, customers care most about low, up-front pricing. Is a Kindle Fire HD 8.9-inch at $299 going to put a serious dent in US sales of an iPad 9.7-inch at $499? Is a Kindle Fire HD 7-inch at $199 going to make Apple stay aggressive with the rumored iPad mini price of ~$199 - $250?

Apple is rumored to be having an iPad event in October, so we won't have that much longer to wait and see.

Meanwhile, for more Kindle Fire coverage, keep it locked to Android Central, and if you want to grab any of Amazon's new Kindles, you can do so via the link below, and help support the Mobile Nations network at the same time.

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Here are the Kindle Fire HD tablets, Amazon's new iPad competitors

14 Comments

The conclusion? Kindle is not good because they don't know how to make a presentation. The screen looks the same as Ipad but Ipad has more ppi ,then compare Ipad specs with Nexus  Rene but i remember that you had said that "specs are not important but user experience" so just don't use double standarts. The price is good but we are waiting Ipad mini with "aggressive" price of 250$ (51$ more than Kindle) and in the end the worry (hope) of Rene that kindle will not sell well in the world. I call this "sophisticated" bashing. I don't know why you don't like competition. I haven't read one and i mean only ONE editorial from you for another product other than Apple without bashing directly or indirectly the product. 

---Lastly, while Amazon impressed with their products today, the presentation made me really appreciate just how good Apple is at providing clear, consistent information during their keynotes. Amazon told a story about what interested them (MIMO!), not what made things clear for viewers. They jumped around and never put up slides that showed product grids -- which devices had which specs at which price points. Apple almost always concludes with those. They tell you what they're going to show you, they show it to you, then they tell you what they showed you. Amazon would do well to nail that part of an event too.---

You realize that this show wont be seen by the majority of consumers right? And you also realize that Amazon isn't Apple?

Just because you love the way Apple presents doesn't make it the de facto way of doing presentations.

No, I worked in marketing for a decade. Apple does presentations properly. Not because they're Apple, but because they take pains to do them right. Nokia did a good job yesterday as well. Amazon's wasn't viewer friendly.

Presentations, like any story, have a structure.

Trying to make it about me and Apple though is a classic troll blunder :)

I'm curious why you feel Amazon is even more "draconian" than Apple.

Doesn't Amazon at least let you sideload apps from other sources? Don't they offer better support on 3rd party devices? Aren't they giving consumers a lot more tablet choices than Apple?

It's true that it does seem kind of anti-Android the way they do things, but they do actually get ripped for that quite often, and I just don't see how they are worse than apple in regards to being closed.

I've worked with Apple as a publisher. Almost anyone who has, either for books or apps, will tell you likewise. They set every term, will change your price, copy, etc. without telling you, and otherwise exert a level of control that makes Apple look nonchalant.

Look into it. The Googles will tell you much.

I'm a consumer -- not a techie in any sense of the word -- I have a Kindle Fire and can't wait to get rid of it. Works great as an e-reader and for web surfing. Apps are abominable for those of us who don't want to waste time trying to see if they're even available through Amazon (usually not) and then try to find them at a 3rd party provider and figure out how to load them. I've been spoiled by Apple, but I just don't have the time or the patience to fool around with something on the Kindle that I can do easily with Apple.

Both Apple and Amazon set every term. Apple allows publishers to set the final price, pays the publisher based on that price, and has been taken to task for colluding with publishers to raise retail prices. Amazon pays a wholesale price and may change the retail price, but not what they pay the publisher. Of the two, Apple is by far the more draconian.

I agree. One thing I really like about Amazon is that I can read my books on almost any device. I never buy from apple because I don't want to throw my books out when I go from pc to android to windows phone to iPhone. I don't really care if apps don't translate across platforms as I just don't buy that many - I really just use a few and I can cough up the $20-30 to replace all the ones I use that actually cost something. I already pay for Amazon prime for the free shipping, so now I could get free streaming movies as well. But I am holding out for lumias and a surface tablet. I'm tired of my iPad - great product just really boring. My wife loves it for that same reason I hate it (it just boringly always works, except for a lot of times when we have to pull out the laptop to get a site to load properly when we are sometimes inputting data into forms and safari chokes).

You didn't mention the price point of the updated Kindle Fire 2, at $159, which will definitely undercut the iPad Mini. The average consumer isn't going to worry about the CPU or GPU or pixel density really as long as its decent, with the Fire 2 is at 169ppi. And the average consumer won't care about ads on the lock screen either. No one sees the lockscreen for more than a few seconds at a time anyway. They care primarily about price and I see this making a large dent in the iPad Mini, or at least causing many consumers to pause and think whether or not they want to shell out at least $100 or more extra for an apple on the back

It'll be interesting to see. At first, a lot of people bought Netbooks because of the price, and that damaged the PC market extensively while Apple did just fine avoiding that whole space.

Is this a repeat of netbooks? Or is Amazon offering experience as well as affordability?

Whew, does something stink or.... Wait! The trolls are out tonight! Seriously guys, you realize that this site is for Apple fan boys right? The OG Kindle didn't even put a dent in the iPad's sales with a $300 price difference, Is $50-$100 going to make a difference going up against an iPad mini? Weigh the fact folks.

I get the feeling that amazon just swung their hammer pretty hard. Made a crack they did. This is quite the step up from what they had last year. I could actually recommend a Fire HD to people, not that I have any use for it. The Paperwhite Kindle looks pretty nice too.

For Apple, this should keep the pressure on them. I expect premium pricing from Apple, that's their model. But we need premium products. The non retina ipad mini will still be an easy sell for me (to give to kid) and to many in the mainstream but the hardware won't appeal to me.

JMO, but Apple will have to double the resolution for iphones in the next few years so the size increase issue gets taken care of. And quickly come out with a retina ipad mini as well as slim down the new ipad. Refocus on what makes an ipad significantly superior to a feature pad like the Fire. In other words, redefine tablet. Continue to improve ecosystem.