Amazon unveils $199 Kindle Fire tablet

AmazonCEO Jeff Bezos on Wednesday showed off the Kindle Fire, a $199 tablet computer, challenging Apple’s iPad by extending its Kindle brand into the world of full-color, multipurpose devices.

Bezos also took the opportunity to show off a new line of Kindle e-readers with black-and-white screens and lower prices, further pressuring competitors such as Barnes & Noble Inc. that are trying to break Amazon.com Inc.’s dominance in electronic book sales.

The Kindle Fire will go on sale Nov. 15. It’s about half the size of the iPad, making it a close match with Barnes & Nobles Nook Color tablet, which came out last year. But while Barnes & Noble sees the Nook Color as jazzed-up e-reader, Amazon has broader goals for the Fire, as a platform for games, movies, music and other applications.

Even before its release, the Kindle Fire was heralded as a worthy competitor to Apple’s iPad. Amazon is nearly unique in its ability to sell content such as e-books, movies and music suited for a tablet — just like Apple does.

But competing with Apple won’t be easy. Many have tried to copy the iPad’s success, but so far, it is the overwhelming front-runner in the tablet computer category. Apple sold 28.7 million of them from April 2010 to June 2011. Analysts at research firm Gartner Inc. expect the iPad to account for three out of four tablet sales this year.

The Fire runs a version of Google Inc.’s Android software, used by other iPad wannabes, and will have access to applications through Amazon’s Android store. Unlike the iPad, the Fire doesn’t need to be backed up on a PC. Instead, it backs up its contents wirelessly on Amazon’s servers.

"That model that you have to back up your own content is a broken model. We want to take responsibility for that," Bezos said in a dig at Apple. He was speaking at a press event in New York.

Amazon’s cheapest new Kindle will cost $79, and dispenses with the keyboard the Kindles have carried since the first model launched in 2007. Previously, the cheapest Kindle cost $114.

Amazon is also bringing out the first black-and-white Kindle with a touch screen. It will cost $99 and is reminiscent of Barnes & Noble’s latest Nook. A version with access to AT&T’s cellular network for book downloads will cost $149.

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