Amazon today announced a second generation Kindle Fire lineup, the Kindle Fire HD, upping the stakes not just for the Apple iPad market leader but also for Microsoft’s up and coming Surface RT tablet. Do the new Kindle Fire HD tablets have what it takes to knock Apple down a notch?
You bet they do.
Amazon’s first generation Kindle Fire, launched late last year, is widely derided by the Apple fanboy set for supposedly not being an iPad competitor, let alone an iPad killer. But the truth is out there: Even with this underpowered and somewhat crippled device, Amazon quickly seized over 20 percent of the media tablet market, breaking off a huge chunk of Apple’s supposedly unassailable market share. What would happen to the iPad if Amazon released a Kindle Fire that could actually stand toe-to-toe with Apple’s device?
We’re about to find out. This time around, Amazon isn’t just beating Apple on price—and by a wide margin: Remember, you could buy one version of every single Kindle model last year, or four devices, for less than the price of one iPad—they’re going after the iPad on tech specs and functionality too. This is nothing less than a full frontal assault on Apple’s iPad strategy. To date, Apple and its ardent fans have been able to justify the firm’s lofty pricing by claiming that the products were superior, and that users were even smart to spend more up front. With the second generation Kindle Fire devices—and, yes, there is more than one model this time around—Amazon is kicking that partially imaginary superiority to the curb.
For 2012, Amazon is introducing the Kindle Fire HD lineup, a second-generation family of Kindle Fires that includes two or three members, depending on how you look at it. Filling in for last year’s Kindle Fire is the Kindle Fire HD, a $199 7-inch tablet that replaces the original Kindle Fire and competes directly with the recently released Google Nexus 7 and the expected Apple iPad mini, which will no doubt cost hundreds more. (Actually, you can buy the original Fire for just $160 now.) And new to the family is the 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD, which will ship in both Wi-Fi ($299) and 4G ($499) versions. Both are significantly less expensive than the Apple iPad models they compete with. Of course they are: That’s Amazon’s business model.
But where the first generation Kindle Fire was derided, somewhat unfairly, for using low-end componentry, this time Amazon has apparently expanded right into Apple territory. These machines are not slouches, and they don’t appear to cheap out on anything. That Amazon is able to sell them so inexpensively is explained simply: Where Apple makes virtually all of its profits on selling new hardware to the same customers year after year, Amazon makes money on the associated services, and not on the devices. So it doesn’t soak customers at the point of purchase. (Or at all, as it turns out: Amazon’s services are not more expensive than the competition’s.)
Here’s how the models break down.
Kindle Fire HD. Amazon’s new 7-inch Kindle Fire will ship September 14, 2012 and cost just $199, the same price as the original Kindle Fire. But this new version is significantly enhanced, with a 1280 x 800 display (up from 1024 x 600), a dual-core 1.2 GHz processor with PowerVR 3D graphics core, Dolby Digital Plus audio with stereo speakers, dual-antenna Wi-Fi and Multiple In/Multiple Out (MIMO) wireless technology, and 16 GB of storage (up from 8 on the original). (You can also opt for a 32 GB version of the Fire HD for the ludicrously inexpensive price of $249. That’s right: You can buy both versions of the Kindle Fire HD for the same price as the very cheapest iPad, just in case it wasn’t clear how overpriced Apple’s luxury products are.) The Kindle Fire HD gets up to 11 hours of battery life, and of course integrates with Amazon’s amazing content services, including Kindle, Audible, Amazon MP3, Instant Videos, and so on.
Kindle Fire HD 8.9. Finally taking on the iPad on its own terms, Amazon is now offering an 8.9-inch version of the Kindle Fire HD that features a stunning Full HD display (1920 x 1080) that Apple would describe as a Retina Display if it could ever offer such a thing so cheaply. It also includes a dual-core 1.5 GHz processor with PowerVR 3D graphics core, and the same wireless, audio, and storages features as the Kindle Fire HD. If you want to jump up to 32 GB of storage, the price is just $369. (Apple’s comparable 32 GB iPad sells for a whopping $599, or $230 more than this device. Yes. $230 MORE.) And before anyone fills your head with silly ideas about the iPad screen being higher resolution, it’s not that much of a difference: The iPad clocks in at 264 pixels per inch (ppi), while the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 hits 254 ppi. Sorry, iCabal. That’s a wash. The Kindle Fire HD 8.9 ships November 20, 2012.
Kindle Fire HD 8.9 4G LTE. If you’re wondering how much tablet you can get for the base price of an iPad—i.e. $499—look no further than this beast: It’s identical to the previous model but adds 32 GB of storage (vs. 16) and a 4G LTE wireless antenna with 12 months of 250 MB/month LTE access for $49.99 per year. (Really, it’s just $39.99 per year since you get a $10 Amazon AppStore credit too.). You can get a 64 GB variant for $599. How much cheaper are these devices than the Apple equivalents? You won’t be surprised to discover it’s not even close: A 32 GB iPad with LTE starts at a whopping $729 (yes, seriously) while that 250 MB/month plan from AT&T will set you back $180 per year (which you must pay in $15 monthly installments). So the total cost of that first year on the Amazon side is $550, while the total cost for the iPad is … wait for it … $910. It’s almost twice as expensive. Ditto when you move up to 64 GB: For Amazon, the total cost is $650, while Apple hits a stratospheric $1010. Game over, man. Game over. The Kindle Fire HD 8.9 4G LET also ships November 20, 2012.
All of these devices will benefit from a number of new enhancements, too: Free and unlimited cloud storage for all of your Amazon-purchased content, a parental controls experience called FreeTime, a new Immersive Reading feature that combines Audible audio books with Kindle eBooks, and an amazing set of features branded X-Ray that let you learn more about content you’re viewing. For example, X-Ray for textbooks lets you tap on items and access a glossary, related online content, and other information. X-Ray for movies lets you tap on a character in a playing movie and learn more about that actor. X-Ray for books helps you find “chapters and locations that mention ideas, characters, and important places, as well as background info, biographies, and more from Shelfari and Wikipedia,” Amazon says. And you get free Whispersync (4G LTE) downloads for most of Amazon’s content on compatible devices.
As is so often the case with technology, we’ll need to wait and see whether the reality of these devices lives up to Amazon’s pre-release promises. But on paper, this new Kindle Fire lineup puts the iPad to shame, and for once that includes tech specs and functionality, too, and not just the price. That’s amazing, and something that the rest of Amazon’s competitors—other Android devices makers, of course, but also Microsoft and other Windows RT devices makers—will need to factor into their own strategies. Amazon just rewrote the rules of the game here, folks, and everything has just changed.