SEATTLE Amazon is refreshing its lineup of tablet computers with new devices called Kindle Fire HDX, which are significantly faster and lighter than the previous generation.
The 7-inch and 8.9-inch versions also have sharper, more colorful displays than older models, and both have more pixels per inch than the latest iPad.
To help those who are unfamiliar with tablets, the new Kindles come with a feature called Mayday, which allows users to summon a live customer service representative in a tiny video window. The helpers can explain new features or troubleshoot problems while guiding users with on-screen hand scribbles. They can even take control of the device from afar.
CEO Jeff Bezos introduced the feature to reporters Tuesday, saying it is completely unique and takes advantage of Amazons cloud computing and customer service infrastructure. It also builds on Amazon.coms reputation for excellent customer service.
You shouldnt have to be afraid of your device, Bezos said.
While the new Kindles are upgraded in several ways, Amazon also cut the price on what will be its entry-level 7-inch tablet, the Kindle Fire HD with 8 gigabytes of memory, to $139. The base HD model previously cost $199 but had 16 gigabytes of memory. The price makes the tablet just $20 more than Amazons latest dedicated e-reader, the Kindle Paperwhite. The Kindle Fire HD is sheathed in a new magnesium alloy body like the HDX models but has the same screen resolution and processing power of the older model. However, it drops the front-facing camera and microphone found in last years HD.
Stephen Baker, a consumer technology analyst with research firm NPD Group, said the price cut to the Kindle Fire HD will do more to help Amazon compete in the tablet market than the added features on the newer models.
Thats where that model needs to be priced, Baker said, explaining that there are numerous manufacturers with tablets with screens that measure 7 inches diagonally all priced around $150. A big focus in that 7-inch category is just price.
In the May-July period, Kindles accounted for 17 percent of all tablets sold in the U.S., compared with 48 percent for Apples iPad and 8 percent for Samsungs Galaxy line, according to NPD.
Globally, Amazons shipments in the April-June quarter were down 59 percent from a year earlier at 470,000, NPD said. That compared with 14.6 million for Apples iPad, down 17 percent from a year ago, and 10.8 million for Samsungs Galaxy line, which is more than six times more than a year earlier. Amazon sells most of its Kindles around the Christmas holidays, Baker said.
The Kindle HDX models come with Qualcomms quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor, which is top of the line for tablets. Amazon said they are three times faster than the older Kindle Fire line. For graphics functions, the HDX models are four times faster than before.
The 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX starts at $379 for 16 gigabytes of memory, while the 7-inch starts at $229 also with 16 gigabytes. Buyers can order them starting Wednesday. The 7-inch will ship Oct. 18, while the 8.9-inch will ship starting Nov. 7.
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