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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Amazon Updates Kindle Fire Line

In the dark of night, very late on Tuesday, Amazon.com announced a refresh of its Kindle Fire tablet line: lighter, faster, cheaper. The Fires were introduced two years ago, and this is their second update in a tablet environment that is brutally competitive.

Microsoft, for instance, announced the new generation of its struggling Surface tablets earlier this week. And the devices are getting more proprietary. Tesco, a supermarket chain in the United Kingdom, introduced a tablet this week for its customers.

Amazon said the Kindle Fire HDX, at 8.9 inches, would be 34 percent lighter than the previous version. It would have a faster memory and a faster processor, and 11 hours of battery time for mixed use. If you did nothing but read, it would be 17 hours.

In its announcement, Amazon trumpeted the Fire’s new “Mayday” button, which it will be touting in television commercials. Tap the button and you will be connected to an Amazon expert “24/7, 265 days a year.”

Which brings up the question: Why is this feature needed? Were the previous Fires so complicated they were beset by confused customers?

Alas, the Amazon public relations team is not as voluble as the Mayday squad, and no answer was forthcoming Tuesday night.

The cheapest Fire will sell for $139, a substantial discount from the previous version. But it is hard to tell how the Fire is doing because Amazon does not release sales figures. This is clear: It is very far behind the iPad. Apple sold about $33 billion worth of iPads in the last year. Amazon’s total revenue in 2012 was less than twice that, and Amazon sells many, many other things besides Kindles.

“The challenge for Amazon is expanding its appeal beyond Amazon’s super fans,” said Sarah Rotman Epps, a Forester analyst. “They’re not the market leader, or anywhere near it. The risk is they fall by the wayside like Barnes & Noble â€" max out their base and then have nowhere to go.”

Next up, according to the rumors: Kindle TV, a set-top device that will feed Amazon’s burgeoning selection of video content directly into living rooms. Stay tuned.