How the new Kindle Fires impact the tablet landscape

Amazon on Thursday unveiled not one, not two, not three, but four new tablets all called the Kindle Fire.

There’s the Kindle Fire, which is a slightly upgraded version of the previous tablet also named the Kindle Fire. Then there’s the Kindle Fire HD 7”, which ups the screen resolution, improves the audio, and boosts the Wi-Fi performance; the Kindle Fire HD 8.9”, which is obviously just about two inches larger diagonally; and then the Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE Wireless, which is also 8.9 inches, but includes access to all ten bands of 4G service in the U.S. That last model requires a $50 per year data plan, which gets you 250MB per month of data and 20GB of cloud storage.

Whew. That’s a lot of Kindles.

And it’s likely that the new Kindles Fire will at least shake up the tablet market a bit. The other big competitors, of course, are Apple with its dominating iPad, and Google with its $199 Nexus 7. Microsoft’s Surface may well prove to be a competitor as well, but as it lacks both a ship date and a price, we’ll leave it out of this discussion.

It’s also worth nothing that—while Apple characteristically hasn’t uttered a peep about its future tablet plans just yet—rumors have the company unveiling a 7-inch tablet of its own, an iPad mini, later this year. But since we don’t know officially that such a device truly exists, and we haven’t a clue what Apple will charge for it, we can’t let that hypothetical device weigh in on our comparison, either.

So how does the tablet marketplace look right now? Click the chart below for a closer look at the tablet landscape.

Apple’s the only big dog in the game with a 10-inch tablet; its pricing starts at $399 for the iPad 2. If you want the beefier third-generation iPad with its Retina display, you’ll pay $499 for 16GB of storage, with a 32GB version at $599 and a 64GB version at $699. Add on support for LTE/4G connectivity, and you’ll need to pay another $130 up front, and you’ll need a data plan, too.

Only one of Amazon’s new tablets approaches that $499 mark—the 32GB Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE Wireless. But for $200 less, Amazon will sell you an 8.9-inch Fire that has 16GB of storage and lacks LTE connectivity, but is otherwise virtually identical to the pricier model. The 8.9-inch Fire boasts a 1920 x 1200 pixel display with 254 pixels per inch. By contrast, the third-generation iPad hits 264 pixels per inch on its 2048 x 1536 pixel display. In practice, screen quality—by the numbers—should be rather comparable, though obviously you sacrifice a diagonal inch of screen space with the Fire over the iPad.

Nexus 7

Again, at this time, Apple has no iPad to compete with Amazon’s $199 Kindle Fire HD 7”, or its $159 Kindle Fire 7”—the latter being sans that “HD” label. Of course, those tablets more directly compete against the $199 Nexus 7. The 7-inch Fire HD’s screen offers, like the Nexus 7’s screen, 1280 x 800 pixels; the plain 7-inch Fire is 1024x600 pixels.

Each brand’s tablets’ plug into their own ecosystem. Google offers integrated access to Google Play, Apple to iTunes, and and Amazon to itself. Amazon seems better positioned than Google to compete with Apple on content; unlike Google, both those companys already sell many millions of books, TV shows, and movies that can be consumed on their respective devices. It’s worth noting, however, that Amazon customers can consume at least some of their purchases on an iPad—thanks to the Kindle app for books and the Amazon Instant Video app for, surprise, video. You can’t access iTunes-purchased videos or iBookstore-bought books on a Kindle Fire.

During its presentation Thursday, Amazon unveiled some clever software innovations for the Kindle Fire series: X-Ray for movies offers quick, IMDb-powered introspection into the cast and crew of the video you’re watching; FreeTime lets parents set time limits on how kids can use the tablet—unlimited book-reading, say, but limited movie watching. And Amazon also mentioned WhisperSync for games, which like Game Center for Apple, keeps track of your in-game progress across devices.

Apple’s iPad

The area Amazon—and Google, when it first showed off the Nexus 7—focused on least is the third-party app marketplace. Both Amazon and Google have app stores of their own, and each offers many thousands of apps. Neither can compete with the size of the iOS App Store, which will likely hit the 1 million app mark within the next several months. Longtime Apple users, of course, will remember the argument that just because there were many more software titles available for Windows than there were for Macs, that didn’t make the former a better platform. That said, at least today, we still live in a world where many developers choose to develop for iOS first, and for other touch-based operating systems later, if at all.

Amazon claims that it now offers the best tablet money can buy. Apple and Google—and many of those companies’ fans—will surely disagree. But it’s clear that we’ve moved beyond the era of also-ran tablets with silly names and siller feature sets: Remember the Xoom or the Playbook? We try not to, either. Whether Microsoft will make this a four-horse race, and indeed, whether any of the iPad’s competitors can push it out of its current, dominating spot—is an open question.

Daniel Ionescu contributed the comparative tablet chart to this article.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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