Amazon Shakes Things Up with Tablet, Browser Announcements

Kindle Fire tablet will sell for just $199.

Web retailing powerhouse Amazon.com shook things up in the tablet market today when it announced its new Android-based Kindle Fire. The device is expected to ship on Nov. 15 for $199, a steep price cut compared to rival products.

Given the low price and the company's vast consumer reach, the Kindle Fire promises to challenge the iPad, though analysts don't see it putting a huge dent in the market for Apple's popular slate.

"Apple's place as market leader is secure, but Amazon will be a strong number two, and we expect no other serious tablet competitors until Windows 8 tablets launch," said Forrester analyst Sarah Rottman Epps in a blog post. "Amazon will sell millions of tablets, and the rapid fire adoption of the Kindle Fire will give app developers a reason -- finally -- to develop Android tablet apps."

The Kindle Fire is one of four Kindle devices launched today; the other three are designed as e-readers. The Fire sports a 7-inch color display -- smaller than the 10-inch Apple iPad. However, the Fire, weighing in at 14.6 ounces, will appeal to users who want to browse Web sites and access Amazon's vast catalog of content from a tablet.

In addition to books, customers can watch movies and TV shows on the Fire and access Amazon's catalog of magazines, games, music, and other apps, the company said.

"Kindle Fire brings together all of the things we've been working on at Amazon for over 15 years into a single, fully-integrated service for customers," said Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos in a statement.

Amazon also launched a new Web browser -- Silk -- that is pre-loaded on the Kindle Fire. Silk uses what the company calls a "split-browser" architecture that leverages caching on the Kindle Fire and the company's Amazon Web Services Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) cloud infrastructure.

The Silk browser resides in components on both the Kindle Fire and EC2. When a user requests a Web page from the device, the browser dynamically splits the workload between the system and the EC2 cloud. Available bandwidth, the nature of the page, and what is already cached affect performance. Silk uses EC2 to process and access the components of a site, thereby providing a fast stream.

Although most current Web browsers can't download Web content until they receive the HTML file, Amazon said Silk learns page characteristics by aggregating page loads with the intelligence residing on EC2.

"We re-factored and rebuilt the browser software stack and now push pieces of the computation into the AWS cloud," Bezos said. "When you use Silk -- without thinking about it or doing anything explicit -- you're calling on the raw computational horsepower of Amazon EC2 to accelerate your Web browsing."

The company said it is offering customers cloud storage with the device.

Kindle Fire
Kindle Fire tablet with Silk browser. (Source: Amazon)

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.