Amazon’s new Kindles look like rising stars

I’m a couple of days late and for that I apologize (I’ve been on the road), but this week Amazon released its anticipated Kindle tablet and snuck out a couple of new e-readers.

The tablet–7 inches, a faster-than-rumored 1 GHz dual-core CPU, priced at $199, and dubbed the Kindle Fire–seems to be an immediate hit, with 95,000 pre-orders in its first day. Amazon is selling each tablet at about a $10 loss, which it should easily make up by selling digital content.

The Kindle Fire
Amazon's new Kindle Fire, a $199 tablet scheduled for a November 15 release

At $199, it’s much cheaper than anyone else has tried to go with a comparable tablet. And for that reason, I think it will be the first commercially successful tablet not made by Apple. I don’t think the HP Touchpad fire sale really counts.

Apple sold 300,000 Ipads on its first day of pre-release. I’m not entirely surprised that Amazon didn’t match Apple’s sales, as Amazon doesn’t have the rabid devotion that Apple has. And Apple was first. But Amazon doesn’t need its tablet to sell as widely as Apple’s; it needs it to sell as widely as its Kindle e-readers.

Speaking of e-readers, Amazon also released a couple of those. The new e-readers are less exciting, but they break some new ground too, price-wise.

They have a $79 reader with buttons for navigation (no keyboard), and a $99 reader with a touchscreen. Both show advertising. Ad-free versions of both are available for $50 more. So now it isn’t just the early adopters who will be buying these. The $79 reader is a pretty easy sell. Download a handful of free books, and you’ve recouped the cost. I don’t like the idea of having my purchased e-books locked in to one particular brand of reader, personally, but I’m in the minority opinion on that. I guess people are used to it, depending on how they look at it. You can’t play Wii games on a Playstation 3, or vice versa. But when I bought a Samsung DVD player to replace my worn-out GPX DVD player, I could still watch all of my DVDs. It’s a question of whether books are like video games, or if they’re like DVDs. I think of them like DVDs.

But now Amazon has two e-readers below the $100 price point. For Amazon’s target audience, that’s an impulse buy. And they sold 25,000 of those in the first day.

The $199 tablet isn’t an impulse buy for quite as many people, but it’s affordable, and clearly there was pent-up demand for it. Even current Ipad owners could buy one as a second tablet for the kids, or for travel, or whatever you’d use a second tablet to do. Critics are divided on whether the 7-inch size is an advantage or disadvantage. It’s not as big, but it’s easier to fit in a pocket if needed. And it’s no secret that Amazon is working on a 10-inch tablet.

Do I want one of the Kindle e-readers? I’m torn. I’d use one if I had one, and I don’t think anyone’s going to make my ideal e-reader, so my best bet might be to go get one of the $79 models. That price is low enough to get some people off the fence.

I haven’t even seen the tablet yet, and I’m pretty sure I want one of those. I’ll probably watch XDA and see if and when it gets hacked, and what the capabilities of the third-party firmware are. But I’m relatively confident that the Kindle Fire will eventually become whatever a determined XDA developer wants it to be, and that’s probably going to be better, at least for me, than what Amazon wants it to be.

Some people don’t care about openness and they just want it to be able to do a few things well, and easily. That’s the target audience here, and I think they’ll hit it.

I think Amazon is going to sell a lot more of these devices–all three or five of them, however you count–between now and the new year.

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