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Amazon Makes Waves to Swamp iPad’s Boat

Amazon unveiled three next-generation Kindle Fire tablets

In a highly anticipated event in Los Angeles Thursday that pushed its stock to a record high while it was happening, Amazon unveiled three next-generation Kindle Fire tablets and priced the mid-range 8.9-inch model with a 1,920 x 1,200 HD screen at $299, undercutting the 9.75-inch Apple iPad by $200.

A seven-inch 1,280 x 800 Kindle Fire HD will run $199, a buck less than Google's seven-inch Nexus 7 and probably less than the iPad mini Apple is believed to be getting ready to put on the market.

The first will be available on November 20. The smaller one goes out the door on September 14. Both come standard with 16GB of memory.

The pièce de résistance is the Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE with 32GB of memory and a built-in wireless modem that'll go for $499 competing against an Apple model that sells for $630.

It also ships November 20 with a data plan that costs all of $50 a year for 250MB of data a month plus 20GB of storage on Amazon's cloud.

That el cheapo data plan puts pressure on carriers and may have implications for the phone Amazon is supposed to be working on. The gossip says it could be out early next year at the latest.

The HD gismos are fitted with dual antennae using a technology called MIMO to improve connections, reportedly making the Fire's Wi-Fi 40% faster than Apple's. The bigger ones also have what Amazon calls "Retina-class displays."

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos chortled, "We are not building the best tablet at a certain price; we're building the best tablet at any price."

Amazon claims its original $199 Android-based Fire, out less than a year, has taken 22% of the US tablet market.

Of course Amazon can afford to sell tablets for cost or less because they support its huge e-commerce and content business like Google can afford to give operating systems away for free to support its ad search interests. Amazon's hardware is also ad-supported.

The company has updated the processor in the original market-snaring seven-inch Fire and cut its price from $199 to $159. That little number will be available next week.

Amazon has come up with a parent-friendly feature called Kindle Free Time that lets time limits be set for activities like playing games and watching movies. There's no limit for reading thank goodness. Users can also get background information on the movie they're watching with a feature called X-Ray that taps into an Amazon database. (Well, maybe it's an Amazon database, we'll have to see.) And a facility called WhisperSync Voice lets users sync between an audiobook and the text version of a book.

A front-facing camera integrates with Skype and the widgets have dual speakers with Dolby Digital Plus sound - which must be a first for tablets. The new Kindle Fire is supposed to 20% faster, thanks to a chip from Texas Instruments (OMAP 4470) with more RAM. There's reportedly 25% less glare with the new screen, which also has a laminated touch sensor for better contrast.

The dingus has new e-mail capabilities, including improved Exchange support for business users, and a custom Facebook app among other Amazon-specific apps. Amazon is using Nokia maps so it doesn't give too much aid and comfort to Google.

Amazon also came out with a new black-on-white e-reader, promising eight-week battery life even if it's left on, called the Paperwhite that weighs 7.5 ounces and is 9.1mm thick. Bezos said the screen has 212 pixels an inch, making it 62% crisper than its predecessor.

With the Paperwhite Amazon is finally able to exploit the technology it got with its acquisition of Oy Modilis a couple of years ago so the easier-to-read-in-the-dark light comes from the bottom edge in competition with Barnes & Noble's Nook. The sensitive, more accurate touchscreen technology used apparently comes from its acquisition TouchCo around the same time.

The Paperwhite with a free 3G data service will cost $179. The non-3G version will run $119. Both will be delivered next month. To cut costs neither support audiobooks anymore. It will however tell you how long it will take for you to finish a chapter based on your personal reading speed. You can also change fonts - or should we say you have a few more fonts to pick from

Whether it knows it or not Amazon is taking a page out of Charles Dickens' book and is going to serialize some e-books. The whole book will cost $1.99 but the Kindle Serials will be released over time to add an air of excitement and anticipation.

The old Kindle e-reader has gotten improves resolution and software updates and will now cost $69.

The Kindle launch coincided with a federal judge approving a settlement with three of the largest book publishers for alleged collusion in the pricing of e-books. The anti-Apple ruling could have serious implications for pricing power and, according to the wall Street Journal, reshape the publishing industry.

Amazon closed at $251.38, close to its high.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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