Amazon enhances tablet gaming, reading with new Kindle Fire HD


Amazon is rolling out an enhanced suite of exclusive gaming, messaging and reading features in tandem with its new Kindle Fire HD, a 8.9-inch large-screen, LTE-equipped tablet unveiled Thursday.

Kindle Fire HD

Click to view a slideshow of Amazon's new family of devices.

Amazon introduced the $499 Kindle Fire HD alongside Wi-Fi-enabled 7-inch ($199) and 8.9-inch versions ($299) without LTE functionality. In addition to access to more than 22 million Android applications, games, e-books, movies, TV shows, songs, audiobooks and magazines, all three Kindle Fire HD devices integrate new content synchronization tools based on Amazon's Whispersync technology: Whispersync for Games syncs the player's place in the game and saves unlocked levels, backing up all progress in the cloud for gameplay across multiple devices. The complementary Whispersync for Voice allows customers to synchronize their Kindle books with professionally-narrated audiobooks: Readers can begin a chapter at home, then continue listening in the car exactly where they left off.

Additional gaming enhancements include a gyroscope and accelerometer for full tilt and turn controls, social gaming features like group leaderboards and achievements and exclusive HD titles including Activision's Skylanders Cloud Patrol franchise and Crytek's Fibble. Parents may also supervise their children's gaming and multimedia activities with the new FreeTime, which offers tools to restrict access to certain titles and limit screen time.

The revamped Kindle Fire HD family also touts new X-Ray features enabling consumers to delve deeper into digital content. With X-Ray for Books, Kindle Fire users can tap the screen to identify all passages within a title related to concepts, fictional characters, historical figures, places or topics that interest them, as well as more detailed descriptions from Wikipedia and the Shelfari reader community site. X-Ray for Textbooks integrates the volume's glossary directly into each page, bolstered related data from Wikipedia and YouTube, and X-Ray for Movies connects with cinema site IMDb to offer one-tap access to actor filmographies, biographies and photos.

Also new: Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Exchange email integration with support for Hotmail and Gmail as well as a new calendar app, a revamped Amazon Silk browser touting an updated core rendering engine and a re-engineered transport layer, and new photo presentation features and importing/storage options.

"We want to make money when people use our devices, not when they buy our devices," said Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. "If somebody buys one of our devices and puts it in a desk drawer and never uses it, we don't deserve to make any money."

Analyst reaction was mixed. "Amazon's combination of an expanded hardware offering and well-integrated and robust media services are well positioned for the short-term, but the online innovator will no longer be able to compete with only annual updates to its devices portfolio," said Informa Telecoms & Media Principal Analyst Andy Castonguay. "For faithful Amazon customers, the new line-up offers excellent improvements and better engagement with Amazon's expanding media and applications offering. However, Amazon's value proposition leadership will be increasingly challenged by the likes of Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) $250 Nexus 7, making it more difficult to convert users of other Android tablets to the Amazon family of services."

Sterne Agee Analyst Shaw Wu added "Because of Amazon's stance in making little profit to losing money on hardware, it makes it a dangerous competitor. However, we question the company's stance where it believes it can make profits on content is the right business model as reselling someone else's content has historically proven to not be a very profitable venture. Apple itself has talked about this where it believes the majority of the profits for iTunes and App Store should be made by the content provider as opposed to itself, the reseller. Perhaps this helps explain why even Amazon today makes much lower margins compared to Apple and Google."

In addition to the new Kindle Fire HD units, Amazon revealed two versions of the Kindle Paperwhite e-reader: A 3G-enabled model as well as a Wi-Fi version. A much-rumored Kindle-branded smartphone failed to materialize, however. In an interview with AllThingsD, Bezos neither confirmed nor denied reports an Amazon smartphone is in the pipeline, saying "We will, certainly--not any time soon, but next year we have some more things that we hope people will enjoy. And it's premature for me to talk about them."

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Complete coverage: Amazon's Kindle Fire and mobile event

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