Need a tablet in your bathroom? Your garage? Your doghouse? Amazon hopes that its new $50 tablet will encourage customers to say yes, yes, and yes.
The online retailer, which already sells its cheapest Fire tablet computer for $99, is going a lot lower with a new version of the device, which will have a seven-inch touch-screen display (an inch more than the existing one) and will start shipping to buyers September 30. The tablet is one of three new Fire tablets Amazon unveiled on Thursday—there’s also an eight-inch one for $150 and a 10-inch one for $230—though it’s by far the cheapest.
Amazon has long hewn to a strategy of setting the prices for its devices like the Kindle e-readers and Fire tablets as close to what it costs to build them as it can, while making money off the e-books, videos, games, music, and such that people then buy from Amazon to use on them. This appears to be the case once again with the $50 Fire tablet.
The extremely aggressive pricing is also a move to snag consumers who don’t want to spend a lot on a tablet from companies like Apple or Samsung but are hesitant to buy from unknown companies. David Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices, played to this point during a small press briefing in San Francisco this week, saying, “I wouldn’t want to give some of these sub-$100 tablets to my worst enemy, let alone to my family.”
Limp contended that the $50 Fire device has a better display than other sub-$100 tablets, with better viewing angles and color saturation.
Amazon hopes the price and features will buoy its tablet business at a time when tablet sales are slowing overall: technology market researcher IDC predicts that tablet shipments will drop 8 percent this year to 212 million, and Amazon represents just a small slice of that overall pie.
Compromises must have been made to make such a cheap tablet, though. That could explain why its resolution (1024 by 600 pixels on a seven-inch display), battery life (seven hours), and processor (a 1.3-gigahertz quad-core), are all lower and slower than the specifications of the existing $99 Fire.
The device has eight gigabytes of built-in storage and a MicroSD slot to add more, as well as front and rear cameras. Along with the other new tablets, it will have a new version of Amazon’s Fire operating system, which is based on Google’s Android Lollipop OS and includes home screens that users swipe through to see different types of content like books, music, and videos.
I got a chance to try out the tablet briefly; while its display wasn’t as crisp as other tablets I’ve used, it responded well to my taps and swipes, and seemed fine for basic Web surfing, reading, or watching videos.
So what does Amazon expect people to do with these cheap tablets, besides those types of standard activities?
“We’re not sure,” Limp said, though he said that Amazon hopes people will buy several of them for different things, like using one as an alarm clock, some as in-car entertainment devices, and another as a coffee-table based remote control.
And Amazon clearly wants to encourage people to buy a handful of them: In addition to selling the $50 Fire on its own, the company is selling the device in a six-pack for $250—about $19 less than the price of one 16-gigabyte iPad Mini with Wi-Fi. The packaging for the six tablet bundle looks like an oversized orange beer six-pack, complete with a cardboard handle on top.
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