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How the new Kindle Fires impact the tablet landscape

Lex Friedman | Sept. 10, 2012
Amazon on Thursday unveiled not one, not two, not three, but four new tablets all called the Kindle Fire.

Nexus 7

Again, at this time, Apple has no iPad to compete with Amazon's $199 Kindle Fire HD 7", or its $159 Kindle Fire 7"-the latter being sans that "HD" label. Of course, those tablets more directly compete against the $199 Nexus 7. The 7-inch Fire HD's screen offers, like the Nexus 7's screen, 1280 x 800 pixels; the plain 7-inch Fire is 1024x600 pixels.

Each brand's tablets' plug into their own ecosystem. Google offers integrated access to Google Play, Apple to iTunes, and and Amazon to itself. Amazon seems better positioned than Google to compete with Apple on content; unlike Google, both those companys already sell many millions of books, TV shows, and movies that can be consumed on their respective devices. It's worth noting, however, that Amazon customers can consume at least some of their purchases on an iPad-thanks to the Kindle app for books and the Amazon Instant Video app for, surprise, video. You can't access iTunes-purchased videos or iBookstore-bought books on a Kindle Fire.

During its presentation Thursday, Amazon unveiled some clever software innovations for the Kindle Fire series: X-Ray for movies offers quick, IMDb-powered introspection into the cast and crew of the video you're watching; FreeTime lets parents set time limits on how kids can use the tablet-unlimited book-reading, say, but limited movie watching. And Amazon also mentioned WhisperSync for games, which like Game Center for Apple, keeps track of your in-game progress across devices.

Apple's iPad

The area Amazon-and Google, when it first showed off the Nexus 7-focused on least is the third-party app marketplace. Both Amazon and Google have app stores of their own, and each offers many thousands of apps. Neither can compete with the size of the iOS App Store, which will likely hit the 1 million app mark within the next several months. Longtime Apple users, of course, will remember the argument that just because there were many more software titles available for Windows than there were for Macs, that didn't make the former a better platform. That said, at least today, we still live in a world where many developers choose to develop for iOS first, and for other touch-based operating systems later, if at all.

Amazon claims that it now offers the best tablet money can buy. Apple and Google-and many of those companies' fans-will surely disagree. But it's clear that we've moved beyond the era of also-ran tablets with silly names and siller feature sets: Remember the Xoom or the Playbook? We try not to, either. Whether Microsoft will make this a four-horse race, and indeed, whether any of the iPad's competitors can push it out of its current, dominating spot-is an open question.


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