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Amazon's Fire set to stoke up the market

Now the buzz as cooled off somewhat over Amazon's announcement last week about the Kindle Fire, let's take a look at some reasons you may join the rush to get this tablet computer or not.

The positives are pricing and access to Amazon's network. The downsides are the lack of any camera and if you're an Apple fan it's not Apple; and if you are an e-reader fan it is not a Kindle.

Amazon leads the e-reader market with Kindle, and the Fire is its attempt to keep that edge by transforming the Kindle e-reader into a tablet, potentially warding off an attack on its market from the mass market boom in tablets, led by Apple's iPad.

The company is pricing Fire at about $200, about $300 lower than the cheapest iPad. For that price you get a stripped down tablet. You can browse using Wi-Fi but not the mobile phone networks (3G). Fire uses the open source Android platform.

But be warned: Amazon changed Android to suit its needs and did not licence it for access to the vast array of apps offered through the Google's Android Market. That decision is part of the strategy to keep the price down. For the techies, it is also using the Gingerbread version of Android, rather than Honeycomb, which is designed for tablets.

You get access to Amazon's app market, which will need to grow fast to match Apple's apps and those on Android Market. Amazon beats Apple on book offerings and its MP3 music store sells songs compatible with most play devices and often has more deals.

Fire has a new browser, Silk, and will use Amazon's cloud services to speed up browsing and make up for the lack of computing power in retrieving web pages and rending images. It's called the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) if you really want to know.

Security company Sophos has already raised privacy concerns, which Amazon will have to address. Since you browse and buy through the cloud, everything done online is available to Amazon. The browser has an “off-the-cloud” mode, but it runs slower and uses up more battery life.

Battery life on the cloud is about eight hours, compared to a week or more with Kindle, all depending on how much you use it. The Fire is not a Kindle e-reader. Kindle's digital ink allows a book to be read in the sun. Fire is a computer where glare can affect viewing and readability.

The advantage is you can now read books in full colour instead of being stuck in Kindle's black and white universe, and the power of touch navigation instead of those buttons and the clumsy typing screen. It is also $50 cheaper than Barnes & Noble's colour Nook, an e-reader, with tablet capabilities on top.

Amazon has boosted screen size to seven inches, compared to 9.7 for the iPad, but one inch more than the Kindle. This allows it to still fit in a coat pocket, same as the Kindle, and it can still be held with one hand, which is a big plus. The IPS touchscreen comes with a wide viewing angle in a 14.6 ounce package. Amazon Cloud provides free storage, so the 8G of space should be enough for most people.

Amazon has staked itself out a new patch of territory not an iPad but good enough for a lot of people.

I guess the only real downside for me is the lack of a camera, not because I want to take pictures. For me video conferencing is crucial to any computing device. I bet that Amazon will add it on along with a microphone in the next version once the device takes off, but perhaps not.

Expert reports say Amazon is selling the device for a loss, or almost no margin, and the addition of a camera would put it further into the red, so I guess it was a good decision to exclude a camera. The company wants to keep you buying from its store. The Fire is on pre-order for now, and will be available in November.

I see it as a great portable addition to your regular computer. It also looks like it would be an affordable choice for a lot of classroom activities.

Don't forget that Fire was not the only announcement made last week. The company announced two amazing new e-readers and dropped the price of its basic Kindle to only $80. The two new touch Kindles Kindle Touch and Kindle Touch 3G are going for $100 and $150.

I would go for the Kindle Touch to replace my regular Kindle which is a pain to navigate and type but still wonderful to read.

Amazon has stirred up the market and made it more competitive. Expect a mad Christmas rush for these devices.

Send any comments to Ahmed at elamin.ahmed[AT]gmail.com

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Published October 05, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated October 05, 2011 at 9:22 am)

Amazon's Fire set to stoke up the market

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