NEW YORK – The tablet wars are finally heating up!
Putting to rest the endless speculation, Amazon on Wednesday officially introduced not one, not two, but four new Kindle devices. The company aims to lock up the e-reader market with an entry-level $79 Kindle, and to do what countless tech companies have failed at: building a color tablet device at a reasonable price that can compete with Apple's wildly successful iPad.
The Kindle Fire is that gadget.
It's designed mainly as a media consumption device rather than a touch computer and it undercuts Apple's iPad by hundreds of dollars—$199 compared to $500 for an iPad. It will go on sale November 15.
The Kindle Fire has a 7-inch color display, weighs just 14.6 ounces, and has a color touch screen. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos emphasized the device's ability to play video from Amazon's streaming Prime service, play MP3's from the Amazon store, and load Web pages more quickly by leveraging Amazon's cloud services.
Online storage for movies, books, and music will be free for Kindle Fire owners, extending storage beyond the device's built-in 8GB of memory. Like current Kindle books, movies will also sync between devices wirelessly so that user can pick up watching a movie from where they left off on another device, such a set-top box like the Roku.
Amazon makes several devices that include 3G cellular connections, but the initial version of the Fire will be Wi-Fi only.
While the Fire is smaller than the iPad with its 10-inch screen and it doesn't have a camera, the tablet is much lighter so that it can be comfortably held in one hand. And it supports all the popular video formats, including Adobe's Flash—something Apple refuses to do. Taking another jab at Apple, Bezos showed one slide of an Apple USB cable, promising that the Kindle Fire would do away with the cords and would update wirelessly
The Fire uses a dual-core processor and the latest version of Google Android software and looked zippy in hands-on demonstrations. Apps will also be available for the device, but Amazon is clearly focused on tying its own services into the tablet.
“This is an end-to-end service,” Bezos emphasized in his presentation in New York City. He touted not only the book store but the Amazon Prime service, which offers streaming movies and programs for an annual $79 subscription. So far, Amazon has lined up some big content providers, including Fox for movies, but still lacks the catalog depth of competing Netflix. According to Amazon, it is still interested in having a Netflix app on the Kindle Fire, as well as other popular competing services, such as Pandora. Such apps are not available yet, however.
The other three Kindles that Amazon introduced today are based on the black-and-white E Ink displays. The Kindle Touch 3G uses infrared senors for touch, and thus eliminates the tiny keypad below the screen. It includes free wireless 3G data service, which will work in over 100 countries, for just $149. The Kindle Touch model is identical but lacks the free 3G service, relying on Wi-Fi instead, for just $99.
Finally, the new Kindle e-reader does away with the touch and 3G features, using Wi-Fi and a directional pad instead—it will costs just $79 and is available now.
“We're going to sell many millions of these,” Bezos beamed.
Amazon is clearly planning to use the popularity of its Kindles to break into other markets. Not only is streaming video a focus of the Kindle Fire, but Amazon plans to push its AmazonLocal deals across all the devices. The service offers special deals on everything from concert tickets to dancing lessons, taking aim at competing Groupon, which is getting media coverage due to its forthcoming IPO.
While Amazon's Kindle announcements today could set off a price war with Barnes & Noble and its color Nook, it's questionable whether Apple will respond by lowering the price of its iPad or introduce newer models before the end of the year.
One thing is certain: At these prices Amazon is bound to light up the e-reader and tablet markets this fall.
uReport: Tablets have only been around for a short time, but it seems like everyone has a favorite app that’s so great they can’t imagine life before it! Tell us with a video or a photo what app is your favorite and why.
John R. Quain is a personal tech columnist for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @jqontech or find more tech coverage at J-Q.com.