Amazon launches assault on tablet market

Amazon has launched a range of new e-reader devices as well as a 7-inch modified Android-based tablet that uses a custom 'Silk' browser
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

Online retailer and cloud services provider Amazon has launched three new e-readers and a 7-inch Android-based tablet that runs the company's Silk browser.

Jeff Bezos

Amazon boss Jeff Bezos showed off the Kindle Fire tablet as the company launched a range of new products on Wednesday. Photo credit: CNET News

Amazon announced the four new devices — the Amazon Kindle Fire, Kindle Touch, Kindle Touch 3G and an updated entry-level Kindle — on Wednesday, alongside its new Silk browser that plugs into Amazon's EC2 cloud platform in order to speed up loading and display of web pages .

"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. With Kindle Fire, you have instant access to all the content, free storage in the Amazon Cloud, the convenience of Amazon Whispersync [and] our revolutionary cloud-accelerated web browser," Amazon chief Jeff Bezos said in a statement.

The Fire brings a dual-core processor, 16 million colour (1024x600 pixel) display, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. There is no 3G option.

The tablet is based on a heavily modified version of the Google Android OS and uses the Amazon app store instead of Google's Android Marketplace. 

The Kindle Fire is a content consumption device and as such provides users — currently only in the US — with access to Amazon's online music and video download and streaming services.

Silk browser

Another key feature of the tablet is the new Amazon Silk web browser, which uses Amazon's EC2 cloud to reduce demands on the device and increase responsiveness and web page loading times.

"AWS [Amazon Web Services] has peering relationships with major internet service providers, and many top sites are hosted on EC2. This means that many web requests will never leave the extended infrastructure of AWS, reducing transit times to only a few milliseconds," Amazon said in a statement.

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.
– Jeff Bezos, Amazon

"While processing and memory constraints lead most mobile browsers to limit the amount of work they attempt at any one time, using EC2 frees Silk from these constraints," it added. "If hundreds of files are required to build a web page across dozens of domains, Silk can request all of this content simultaneously with EC2, without overwhelming the mobile device processor or impacting battery life."

However, security company Sophos questioned the value of faster loading web pages versus the privacy implications of a browser that temporarily stores the URL of every web address visited and caches the content of the page.

"It sounds as if Amazon will install a trusted certificate in the Silk browser allowing them to provide a man-in-the-middle (MITM) SSL proxy to accelerate your SSL browsing as well. As Amazon is a US-based company this would enable a US court order to intercept and record your secure communications," Chester Wisniewski, senior security advisor at Sophos Canada, said in a blog post.

Customers in the US will pay $199 (£127) and it will be available from 15 November. No UK price or availability has been given.

Fragmented Android

However, Carolina Milanesi, mobile analyst at Gartner, cautioned that another version of the Android OS serves to fragment the platform further and that the aggressive price point could be a concern for other Android device manufacturers, rather than iOS devices.

"The Fire will mainly impact Android competitors who have been struggling to deliver a compelling reason for consumers to invest in their tablets. The aggressive price the Fire is selling at plus the ecosystem will certainly impact these vendors and I expect prices to finally drop more aggressively, and hopefully a higher degree of attention to apps. Apple should only be marginally impacted in the US and mainly on the entry-level iPad," Milanesi told ZDNet UK.

"For Google I am sure the Fire is a concern as it further fragments the Android ecosystem both for the developers but also from a Google experience," she added.

Kindle e-readers

Also announced on Wednesday was an updated version of the Kindle, a Kindle Touch and Kindle Touch 3G. All three use a 6-inch monochrome e-ink display.

The new e-reader Touch devices build on the success of the original Kindle units, but swap the keyboard for a touchscreen interface instead. Like the original Kindle 3G, which has been renamed the Kindle Keyboard 3G — wireless data connectivity on the Touch 3G version remains free around the world.

The Kindle Touch and Touch 3G  go on sale on 21 November priced at $99 and $149, respectively, in the US. However, neither has been confirmed for a UK launch.

The only device confirmed for the UK is the "all new" Kindle, which is priced at £89, or $79 for customers in the US. It is available immediately in both countries.

Get the latest technology news and analysis, blogs and reviews delivered directly to your inbox with ZDNet UK's newsletters.
Editorial standards