this morning overhauled its lineup of Kindle devices and expanded for the first time into the world of general-purpose computing for consumers — taking on the likes of Microsoft and Apple with a $199 tablet computer, dubbed the Kindle Fire.

Yep, Amazon is coming out with an iPad rival, and for hundreds of dollars less than Apple charges. But more than that, the Seattle company is reshaping its business for a new era in which people consume content — and making purchases — while leaning back in their seats with a tablet. Amazon is banking on users paying for subscriptions and media downloads to help subsidize the low price.

“We don’t think of the Kindle Fire as a tablet. We think of it as a service,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos tells Bloomberg Businessweek.

Here’s a rundown of highlights from this morning’s news …

Kindle Fire: This is Amazon’s new tablet, with a specialized interface on top of Google’s Android operating system. It’s available now for preorder and will ship Nov. 15. It comes with a dual-core processor, 8GB of storage and WiFi connectivity but not a 3G connection.

Its 7-inch LCD color screen uses extra-strength glass that Amazon says will resist accidental bumps and scrapes. Kindle Fire weighs 14.6 ounces, slightly less than a pound — light enough to carry with one hand, Amazon says — compared with the iPad 2’s weight of a little more than 21 ounces (1.33 pounds). Promised battery life is 8 hours on one charge, and it offers free online storage for all Amazon content.

Amazon says Kindle Fire comes with a USB port but doesn’t need to be synced to a computer. It also has a 3.5 mm stereo audio jack.

Built-in features include an email client that can integrate multiple accounts, the Amazon Silk web browser, plus access to Android app and games. And Kindle books, of course.

Kindle Touch: Amazon’s first touch-screen Kindle does away with the old keyboard and physical buttons, allowing users to page ahead and back by touching the right and left sections of the screen.

New features include “X-Ray,” which Amazon says will let users tap to see the “bones of a book” — “all the passages across a book that mention ideas, fictional characters, historical figures, places or topics that interest them, as well as more detailed descriptions from Wikipedia and Shelfari.”

The WiFi version sells for $99 with the aforementioned ads, and $139 without them. A version with 3G mobile connectivity goes for $149 with ads and $189 without.

Kindle Touch is slated for release in November.

New Kindle: This is the revamp of Amazon’s basic Kindle e-reader, and the big news is that it sells for a rock-bottom $79, shipping today.

The big caveat is that the $79 price is for the “Special Offers” version that includes sponsored screensavers and special deals — also known as advertising. For an ad-free experience, this one will sell for $109, still a notable reduction in price from previous versions.

It comes with a 6-inch screen and built-in WiFi, and weighs less than 6 ounces.

Here’s an ad that Amazon will air for Kindle Fire, which also explains the origins of the name …

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  • Guest

    Much respect for a company that quotes Voltaire, twice, in an advert.

  • rickg

    “Yep, Amazon is coming out with an iPad rival, and for hundreds of dollars less than Apple charges.”

    It’s not an iPad rival. It’s a Nook Color rival and from what I’ve read a very nice one. But it’s not open for users to install any app they want, etc, so it’s not a ‘full’ tablet. Don’t get me wrong, it looks like a very nice device, but it and the iPad serve different market needs. For a lot of people what the Fire and Nook Color do will be most of what they want a tablet for. For others, it won’t. 

    I have a Nook Color and it’s a great device. But I also have an iPad and it’s not the same. Full access to any app developed for the platform simply allows for a different range of capabilities as it does, I’m sure, for full on Android tablets. For people who look at the Fire or Nook Color and think “you know, that’s all I really want a tablet for anyway” they now have two great choices. 

    • Roy Leban

      “it’s not open for users to install any app they want, etc, so it’s not a ‘full’ tablet”

      Are you saying the iPad isn’t a full tablet?

  • Scott981

    Personally, I would prefer to not have a company by default intercept all my web traffic than save a hundred milliseconds in latency for the average web page.

  • Anonymous

    Kindle Fire isn’t really an iPad competitor. In the end, I think more people will be in the market that Amazon is serving with a lower spec/cheaper tablet than the iPad market.

    It’s way easier to impulse purchase a $199 device (or gift it) and it does what a lot people need a tablet to do, even without more bells and whistles.

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