Amazon turns heat up in tablet market with 8.9" Kindle Fire HD

Amazon's new Kindle Fire HD might be the most serious competition for the iPad yet -- in both the consumer and enterprise markets.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor
Credit: Rachel King, ZDNet

SANTA MONICA, CALIF. -- While the Kindle Paperwhite is Amazon's answer to the Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, the new Kindle Fire HD must be the answer to Apple's iPad.

See also: CNET Live Blog from Amazon's media event in Santa Monica
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite might be most paper-like e-reader ever

But while the first Kindle Fire was basically a media-consumption device, the next generation of the Kindle Fire has the potential to be very competitive with both enterprise and education customers.

Released during the last quarter of calendar year 2011, CEO Jeff Bezos commented that the Kindle Fire accounted for 22 percent of tablet sales in the U.S. last year.

"Nobody would have predicted this when we launched this product less than a year ago," Bezos said, quipping that Amazon will keep the Kindle Fire around.

The entry-level 7-inch version got some significant upgrades thanks to an all-new processor with double the ram and 40 percent faster performance. Even better, the new Kindle Fire is coming with a price drop as Bezos commented that Amazon wants to produce "the best tablet any price."

Priced at $159, the upgraded Kindle Fire (now with 16GB) is available for pre-order today and ships September 14.

But the real focus of the presentation was the new 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD.

"We decided to go big," Bezos remarked while walking out with each of the new Kindle Fire models in his hands.

The HD edition includes an advanced, true wide polarizing filter with full spectrum color at all angles and a laminated touch sensor without any air gaps.

But beyond just a pretty screen, Amazon is trying to outpace Apple with some serious internal hardware ranging from a Dolby audio engine exclusive to the Kindle Fire HD as well as a new system called MIMO, which essentially improves Wi-Fi reception by using those echos for better signals.

Bezos boasted that prior to today, only a small end of high-end laptops incorporated MIMO technology, comparing the Fire HD to the iPad 3 and Nexus 7 -- neither of which include the technology.

Thus, Amazon asserts that the Kindle Fire HD promises 41 percent faster Wi-Fi than the iPad 3 and 54 percent more than the Nexus 7.

When it comes to downloading and streaming HD content, that is something that is incredibly important to consider. Media consumption is essentially the whole point of the Nexus 7, and it is to a certain extent on the iPad.

Furthermore, Amazon is trying to take on the iPad more directly with a larger focus on productivity. Bezos glossed over all new email functionality, which includes "world-class" Exchange support, faster access to new email, and improved sync reliability for contacts and calendars.

The Kindle Fire HD could also prove to have a niche in the education space as well thanks to the new X-Ray feature, which basically zooms in on everything from character names in books on any upcoming Kindle or integration with IMDB for actor biographies on the Fire.

But on the Fire HD, X-Ray is extended further with a textbook search tool that looks so simple at first that it's a wonder why no one had ever thought of it sooner. That matched with an 8.9-inch display, the Kindle Fire HD would be very appealing to both students and educators.

Right now, the iPad is likely the most prominent tablet in the enterprise sector on top of being the dominant tablet in the consumer market place.

But at the right price point, the Kindle Fire HD could seriously disrupt all that as Amazon has shown it is committed to producing a tablet that covers both productivity and entertainment, putting it in prime position to get involved with the BYOD trend.

And Amazon likely hit a sweet spot. The Kindle Fire HD 7" with 16GB will retail for $199 and ships September 14, while the Kindle Fire HD 8.9" with 16GB will really only be a little bit more at $299, shipping November 20.

Amazon is also turning things up a notch with a 4G LTE version of the 8.9-inch tablet at $499. That is tied along to a $49.99 per year package deal that is comprised of 250MB of data per month along with 20GB of cloud storage and a $10 Amazon Appstore credit.

For more analysis about the new pricing scheme, check out our further analysis on ZDNet.

Editorial standards