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The Kindle Fire tablet doesn’t quite match the aesthetics of an iPad. It doesn’t sport the same delicate curves or metallic body, for example. But most people won’t care. What’s most exciting is that it comes close to matching the iPad experience for a fraction of the price—$199 compared to $499 for the basic iPad 2—and it offers easy access to Amazon’s vast array of digital content.

Like the iPad, the Fire has a color touch screen, can play video, and runs apps. It uses Google’s Android operating system, but it’s a heavily modified version of that system, so the experience is very different from that on other Android tablets. But the most important difference is Amazon’s use of cloud technology and the content libraries it’s built up over the last few years to deliver content to the Fire.

“We asked ourselves, ‘Is there some way that we can bring all of [our] services together into a remarkable product offering that customers will love,’ ” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said at a press conference today in New York. “The answer is ‘yes.’ ”

The new device weighs 14.6 ounces and has a seven-inch screen; it’s smaller than the iPad and comfortable to hold in one hand, and its touch screen is responsive. The Web browser, called Silk, which Amazon developed from scratch, loads Web pages at lightning speed even on a clogged Wi-Fi network, thanks to some clever cloud-caching technology. Judging by demonstrations at the launch event, it offers a smooth experience for watching videos, listening to music, reading books, and playing games.

In some ways, Bezos has beaten Apple at its own game by offering such a simple user experience. Kindle Fire has eight gigabytes of storage, but it’s designed so that users don’t have to worry about whether they’re filling up available space. “All of the content on this device is backed up in the cloud so that you can delete things whenever you want,” Bezos said.

In contrast, Apple’s iTunes service is still focused on downloading content to devices rather than streaming, and Apple’s cloud offering, announced earlier this year, is comparatively limited. 

During the presentation, Bezos stood in front of an image of Apple’s white USB cord, which is used to synchronize the data on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod with a user’s computer. He sneered, “Syncing should be done invisibly, wirelessly, and in the background, and it should actually work.”

Bezos added that the Kindle Fire will use the same Whispersync technology that Amazon uses to synchronize books on older Kindles to deliver other types of content. Amazon’s vast stockpile of downloadable content, including e-books, music, movies, and, most recently, apps, could present the biggest draw for many customers.

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Tagged: Computing, iPad, tablets, cloud, Amazon EC2

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