Amazon has heated up the tablet competition on Thursday with the introduction of new Kindle Fire HD tablets, including a model with LTE capabilities and another model with an 8.9-inch screen that can display images at a resolution of 1920 by 1200 pixels.
The Kindle Fire HD will also be available in a 7-inch model and the tablets will have storage starting at 16GB, said Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, during an event in Santa Monica, California.
The 8.9-inch Kindle HD tablet will be priced at US$299 for 16GB of storage, and will be available on 20 November. The 7-inch Kindle Fire HD model will be priced at $199 and ship on 14 September.
The Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE wireless with 32GB of storage will be available for $499, and also ship on 20 November. A $49.99 annual data plan provides 250MB of data transfers per month and 20GB of storage in the cloud. The company did not clarify the screen size of the Kindle Fire HD LTE model.
The new Kindle Fire HD devices bring new features, including a larger screen, more storage and mobile broadband capabilities, compared to the original Kindle Fire, which was announced in September last year with a 7-inch screen. The new devices have a faster processor and a front-facing camera, which was not available in the original Kindle Fire.
The 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD is 8.8 millimetres thick and will weigh 566 grams. It runs on a Texas Instruments OMAP4470 dual-core ARM processor, which is based on the Cortex-A9 design. The device operates on a dual Wi-Fi range, giving it faster wireless networking than Google's Nexus 7 tablet, according to Bezos.
The new devices also have a HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) port so the tablets can be connected to high-definition TV sets.
The Kindle Fire tablets now have Microsoft Exchange integration. A new email client offers support for Google's Gmail, Microsoft's Exchange and Hotmail.
The new tablets also have features like X-ray, where information about actors is shown on-screen when a movie is playing. A new feature called FreeTime sets time limits for different types of content activity. For example, the new feature can set the amount of time that kids can play games during a day.
Amazon has also re-priced the original Kindle Fire to $159, with more RAM and a faster processor. The tablet was originally priced at $199.
The first Kindle Fire became Amazon's most successful product, and in its first year the device captured 22 percent of U.S. tablet sales, according to the company.
This year the competition will be stiffer. Google announced the Nexus 7 tablet starting at $199, and the device has been selling very well. Samsung launched a new version of its Galaxy Note and a flurry of tablets with Microsoft's Windows 8 are due later this year, including one from Microsoft called Surface. Rumors also persist of a new, smaller version of the iPad coming later this year from Apple.
The hardware specifications in the Kindle Fires have improved, but Amazon also has strong content to offer its customers, said Bob O'Donnell, program vice president of clients and displays at IDC.
"Amazon has now improved the hardware specs to match the requirements of the market and the competitors as they continue to try to differentiate based on user interface and content services," O'Donnell said.
Amazon is banking on content to distinguish its product. It's becoming increasingly hard for vendors to differentiate on hardware as the advantages are short-lived, O'Donnell said. Hardware changes come very quickly, and Amazon is adding more content to its multimedia library to attract buyers.
The original Kindle Fire attracted members of Amazon Prime, which offers instant movie and TV show streaming as one of the benefits. At $79 a year, Amazon Prime members get access to 25,000 movies and TV episodes for instant streaming to the Kindle tablet at no additional cost.
Amazon earlier this week struck a major deal with movie studio Epix, which adds thousands of movies to Amazon's movie library, including popular titles such as "The Avengers," "Iron Man 2" and "The Hunger Games." The Amazon Prime Instant Video service in total offers 120,000 movies and TV episodes. The company also added video content from ESPN and Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution over the past few months, and opened a new Appstore in the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, providing access to Android apps.
Amazon at the event also introduced the Kindle Paperwhite e-reader, which can light up and is aimed at people who want to read in bed before they fall asleep. The e-reader has a backlight that lights up the screen as well as GlowLight, which is similar to a feature on Barnes & Noble's Nook Simple Touch.
The Paperwhite gets eight weeks of battery life even with the light on, and has capacitive touch. It is 212 grams and is thinner than a magazine. It has a sharper screen than previous Kindle e-readers.
The Paperwhite with Wi-Fi will sell for $119. A 3G version will work in more than 100 countries and will be priced at $179 and ship on 1 October.