Even as Apple's iPad towers over the competition, Google, Microsoft and Amazon continue to fight for their share of the $66.4 billion tablet market  with devices of their own. Today, Amazon announced an updated version of its Kindle Fire that includes 4G wireless, a lower-priced $69 Kindle, an improved e-reader called the Kindle Paperwhite, and a range of new software features.There had been a massive amount of speculation that Amazon would totally new products as well. One possibility, which was first put forth by The Verge , is a smartphone that would use Google's Android platform. There was also speculation that a video box might be unveiled, which made sense given some recent moves by the company: Amazon tried to buy box maker Roku earlier this year, according to All Things D . And earlier this week Amazon announced a deal with EPIX that will bring such Hollywood fare as The Avengers and Iron Man 2 to its Prime Instant Video service. Neither of those rumors proved true.
Here's what did get announced...
The best-selling item on Amazon, which accounts for 22% of tablet sales in the U.S. according to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, will sell for $199 for the 7-inch model and $299 for the 8.9-inch model. Both offer 16GB of memory, with 40% faster performance, and longer battery life. Both models can be ordered starting today and will ship on September 14.
Bezos also unveiled a Kindle Fire HD with 4G LTE wireless capability. Amazon engineered a wireless modem specifically for this device in order to maintain its 2.2mm thickness. The 4G model is 8.9 inches, and offers 32GB of storage for $499. The data plan, which costs $50 per year, offers 20GB of cloud storage and 250MB of data per month. By comparison, the iPad 3 device and data plan would cost around $959--at least according to a slide Bezos showed on the screen. The Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE (try saying that 3 times quickly) can be ordered today and will ship on November 20.
The Fire HD has improved Wi-Fi reception, dual band 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz, as well as two antennas. (That's one more speaker and antenna than the iPad, if you're counting such things.) Bezos claims these Wi-Fi and antenna improvements will make the Fire HD exponentially faster than either the iPad or Google's Nexus 7.
The HD display (which is now 1920 x 1200) has been tweaked so there is less glare. The device also includes dual stereo speakers--the first tablet with Dolby Digital Plus, says Bezos.
The software that's been added to the device is in many ways even more interesting than the hardware, and it shows that Amazon is keenly aware of how people use its devices.
Having sold 3.5 million Kindle Singles, Amazon is going to further boost the mid-length reading market with Kindle Serials. You're delivered all the installments with one payment. New updates are added as they become available. Bezos mentions, twice, that Charles Dickens' novels were serialized originally. There are at least eight titles to kick things off, all will be $1.99.
Targeted specifically to parents, Time Limits allows them to control the amount of time kids spend using different aspects of the tablet device. Specific limits can be set for the amount of time spent watching videos, using apps, or reading books. And there are different profiles so that you can set limits for multiple children. There is also a color-coded "Free Time" mode so that a parent can easily see when the device is being used by children.
X-Ray For Movies
When Amazon released the Kindle Touch it also revealed X-Ray as a feature that let readers look at the "bones of a book" by tapping on the text to see background info on characters, historical figures, or topics and other information--with rich data sourced from Wikipedia and elsewhere. Now it's revealed X-Ray for Movies, which similarly lets watchers peep beneath the skin of a film. When you pause a movie, X-Ray will serve up data like actor biographies, info on the cast, and so on--basically all the stuff that makes us curious while we watch a movie, and which we then go and Google later. This data is sourced from IMDB.
It's also expanding X-Ray for books with a special Textbooks power, aimed at students. When you tap on text in a textbook, X-Ray brings up additional reference data that'll help with studies.
Amazon's Whispersync was pivotal for its Kindle e-readers, enabling zero-cost downloading of text content, as well as seamless syncing of your current reading position no matter where in a book you were and which of your devices you're reading it from. Now Amazon's enabled Whispersync for Voice, leveraging its ownership of the Audible audio book brand. It syncs your position in a book no matter if you're reading it or listening to the voice performance of the text--perfect for reading the book at home in the morning, and continuing to listen to the text while driving. It's simply clever "chapter marking" in both digital files--text and audio--but its impact for readers may be significant.
Whispersync for Games is a similar progress-syncing channel, routed through Amazon's cloud services, which lets you keep track of where you get to in a game. Essentially it's a cloud hook that snags the position you've got to in a game, so if you reinstall the app or run the game app on a new device you don't have to play through all your earlier levels.
Upgraded email options, a custom Facebook application, and built-in Skype with improved resolution are a few of the ways Kindle Fire HD owners will be able to take advantage of the Wi-Fi and dual antennas.
Audiobooks are no longer separate from reading with this feature that highlights the text in the book while it is also being read aloud as an audio book.
The basic version of Paperwhite will cost $119, and there is also a 3G cellular version for $179. Both can be ordered today and will ship on October 1.
Highlight: The Kindle Paperwhite's battery will last eight weeks even with the light on, according to Bezos.
Amazon managed to both upgrade the Kindle's specs and lower its price. New fonts, crisper text, faster page turns, and $10 less than existing model. Ships on September 14. It's amazingly cheap, but not free just yet, Farhad .