They will encourage mobile consumers to buy more from Amazon, one expert says.
Amy Dusto , Associate Editor
Amazon.com Inc. has released new Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Fire HDX tablets. Both tablets run on the retailer’s latest, Android-based operating system, “Mojito,” and promise faster performance and better displays than their earlier cousins.
When it comes to mobile commerce, the new Kindles are designed to make it easy for users to purchase goods through Amazon. Like previous Kindle tablets, the new HD and HDX feature tight integration with Amazon.com’s mobile media offerings, including books, music, videos and apps. Amazon Prime members can now download videos to watch offline, as well as stream videos online, which previous models enabled. The new Kindles’ “X-Ray” feature enhances music and video consumption. For music, X-Ray displays synchronized lyrics as a song plays; for movies or TV shows, it displays titles along with trivia and other information about a video as it plays. X-Ray also displays prompts enabling users to buy a digital version of the music or video.
Also on the selling front, Amazon has integrated Goodreads into the Kindle HDX. Goodreads, which Amazon acquired earlier this year, is a web and mobile social network for readers designed to help readers find books that match their tastes, which potentially could lead to more e-book sales for Amazon.
The 7-inch Kindle Fire HD costs $139 and is available now for pre-order on Amazon.com; it will begin shipping next Wednesday, Oct. 2, Amazon says. The Kindle Fire HDX, which comes in 7-inch or 8.9-inch versions, costs $229, $269 or $379 depending on the feature selection—in addition to two screen sizes, it comes with several storage capacity options, a dual or quad-core processor, and with one or two HD cameras. The HDX is available for pre-order and will ship on Nov. 7, Amazon says. By comparison, Apple sells the 9.7-inch iPad starting at $499 and the 7.9-inch iPad Mini starting at $329.
“Being extremely aggressive on the Fire product pricing places Amazon in the largest possible number of users’ hands, acting as Trojan horses to stimulate additional consumer spend in book purchases, movies, apps and games,” says Chris Silva, founder of technology research firm High Rock Strategy. The new devices are also likely to drive many of their owners to sign up for Amazon’s Prime membership program, Silva says, because it includes access to streaming videos and is convenient for repeat shoppers. Prime members receive free two-day shipping on all Amazon.com purchases and free access to Amazon library of streaming video.
Another new feature on the Kindle Fire HD and HDX tablets is what Amazon calls “second screen” functionality, which enables a customer to sync her Kindle Fire HD or HDX to her TV screen via a PlayStation game console or Samsung Smart TV and use the TV as the primary screen for viewing media from the tablet, which acts as a controller.
For the Kindle Fire HDX, Amazon is introducing a feature called the Mayday button. Consumers who tap on the button are connected via live video to an Amazon support agent who can show them how to use the device, talk them through a problem—including by “drawing” on their screens from afar to point out features—or remotely control the tablet themselves. While the agent is visible onscreen to a consumer, she cannot see them, Amazon says. The service is available around the clock. “With the Mayday button, our goal is to revolutionize tech support,” says Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com founder and CEO.
Still, some analysts say all the new features may not be enough to make the Kindle tablet more attractive to consumers than competing devices such as Apple Inc.’s iPad or the Android-powered Samsung Galaxy Tab. “While the new Kindles will continue to provide easy access to Amazon’s media ecosystem, we still note the lack of a compelling app store or library of apps, compared to what is available from Apple or Google,” writes Colin Sebastian, a stock analyst with R.W. Baird Equity Research, in an analysis note.
Amazon has highlighted the new tablets’ functionality in the workplace, including managing e-mail, printing, and the ability to open spreadsheets, documents and presentations. “Amazon realizes that these devices’ value is directly linked to the time users are spending in front of them and thus is looking to do everything it can to increase the hours a user has their Kindle with them,” says Silva of High Rock Strategy. As such, the retailer’s strategy is to “court users’ employers with enterprise management features and pave the way for these tablets to be the go-to device not only when couch surfing, but for all online interaction throughout the user’s day, including the hours at work.”
Amazon is clearly gunning for Apple with the Kindle debut of super-high-definition screen resolution on the HDX. The concept of a screen providing a display better than HD was introduced by Apple in 2010 with the so-called Retina Display on its iPhones and iPads. Apple claims the human eye cannot distinguish pixels on its Retina Display, the standard to date for super-high-resolution. Amazon’s 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX offers 323 pixels per inch resolution and its 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX 339 pixels per inch resolution. Apple’s 9.7-inch iPad tablet features 264 pixels per inch resolution. On the smartphone front, Apple’s 4-inch iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c offer 326 pixels per inch resolution.