Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets are handheld vending machines for the company’s e-books and streaming content.
But that could change.
Amazon’s new Kindle Fire HDX tablets—available Nov. 7 in 7-inch and 8.9-inch editions—are still intended first and foremost as a way for Amazon to affix a cash-sucking hose directly to your credit card. But that being said, they boast a handful of productivity features—including a built-in OfficeSuite and more robust email—that could make the devices more akin to conventional tablets.
The upgraded hardware specs don’t hurt, either: both the 7-inch and 8.9-inch editions boast 2.2 GHz quad-core processors and 2GB of RAM; the larger one includes an 8-megapixel rear camera paired with a front-facing 720p HD camera for video-calling. Amazon has also added a “Mayday” button with on-device tech support—perhaps an attempt to eclipse Apple’s Genius Bars, which have a reputation for sterling (on-premises) customer care. If that wasn’t enough, the company has also upgraded the Fire’s underlying operating system (a highly modified version of Google Android that Amazon calls “Fire OS”) with a revised interface and more streamlined access to apps.
Amazon’s fixed the HDX with a relatively low price: $229 for the 7-incher, and $379 for its larger sibling. That matches Google’s Nexus 7, and comes in below Apple’s iPad Mini (which starts at $329 for the 16GB edition).
It goes almost without saying that Amazon has to keep improving its Kindle franchises’ underlying hardware; although the company isn’t on the same upgrade treadmill as its rivals (its revenue model is much more dependent on selling content via the cloud, as opposed to hardware sales), it needs to maintain at least some semblance of specs parity with the other devices on the market. But it didn’t need to add productivity features to a device that’s so explicitly geared for content delivery. The question now is whether Amazon will expand on these early features, and have Kindle Fires adopt other tablets’ mix of productivity and entertainment, or if improved email and other workaday widgets are just a small bone to some tablet owners’ concerns.
Given Amazon’s obvious ambitions, it’d be a safe bet that the company has its eye on corporate tablet customers. But how Kindle Fire will evolve to meet those customers’ needs—that could prove interesting.