Amazon Throw Down The Gauntlet: Four New Devices, Basic Kindle $79, Tablet $199

In a very slick presentation in New York this morning, Amazon announced details of four new devices, surprising everyone with their aggressive pricing.

The basic Kindle (now without a keyboard) will retail for $79 (with Special Offers, $30 extra without). It’s a new model, faster page-turns, slightly smaller (same screen), black and white e-ink, wifi, one month-long battery life, and is 30% lighter than the Kindle 3, weighing a remarkable 6 ounces (that’s 170g for my metric peeps). It will hold 1,400 books.

The Kindle Touch is priced at $99 (again, without Special Offers for $30 more), same e-ink, same wifi, and despite the touchscreen, is lighter than the Kindle 3. It has a two month battery life and holds 3,000 books.

Next up is the Kindle Touch 3G, costing $149 (avoid ads for $40 more this time) – and that extra $50 gets you all of the above plus an unlimited data plan in over 100 countries so you can enjoy that 3G when roaming. Both Touch models have a couple of extra features not included in the entry level Kindle.

If you were a big fan of that keyboard (for word games, searching, or whatever), the old Kindle 3 remains on sale, now re-branded as the Kindle Keyboard (is it just me or does that sound like a kid’s piano?) which will now retail at the Special Offers supported price of just $99 (add $40 for no ads and/or add $40 for 3G).

But that last one wasn’t part of today’s announcement, and is not a new device. So what’s the fourth?

The Kindle Fire – a 7″ tablet, wifi only, for just $199.

Yesterday’s rumors had it pretty spot on, except for the price. Amazon won’t be bundling Prime with the tablet, instead giving a free 30-day trial. They must be confident that will be enough to suck plenty of customers in.

As detailed yesterday, the spec is not going to send techies into a frenzy. Essentially it’s a repurposed PlayBook, with the only real upgrade being on the software side which sounds pretty slick for movies, television, video, games, and books – all of which will be purchased, downloaded, streamed, or rented from Amazon (of course).

Amazon have customized an older version of Android which, while looking pretty nifty, will also lock people in to Amazon’s universe (no access to the Android marketplace for example, and no sign of Google apps thus far), especially after they sign up for Prime.

I don’t see the Kindle Fire as being aimed at readers as such and Amazon don’t seem to be positioning it that way either. It really seems to be for people who want a multi-function device but don’t want to spring for the technically superior iPad (whose most basic model is more than double the cost of this tablet).

Of course, it can read books, I’m just skeptical how many heavy readers will buy it, or use it for that purpose. For that reason, I won’t talk too much about it here, but if you want more, try this article from TechCrunch, or this article from CNET.

I’m more interested in the dedicated e-readers. Amazon’s aggressive pricing is bound to spawn a new wave of entrants into the e-book market. And if last Christmas is anything to go by, it could be a bumper season as all this new e-reader owners load up their devices – a binge which may continue through February.

Essentially, anyone that was on the fence about getting a Kindle is sure to get one now, and Amazon are covering all the bases: bog standard Kindle, one with a keyboard, one with touch, ads if you want them (or not), 3G or wifi.

And if you want a device that can do more, you can have that too.

The only people with restricted choices (for now at least) are those living outside the US, who will only be able to purchase the basic Kindle, or the older models.

Even in the two other countries where the Kindle has officially launched – the UK and Germany – the same restrictions apply. There is no indication if Amazon have plans to change this, but I would imagine it’s a matter of time.

In the UK, the new, basic Kindle model will retail for £89 (about $139). The price difference seems to spring from the fact that it has no ads. It’s a similar story in Germany where the entry model will cost 99 Euro (about $135).

For internationals outside the UK and Germany, things get a little more complicated (of course). While we can purchase the basic model from the US store, it is priced at $109 (presumably because a model with Special Offers is only available in the US for now), I’m not sure the ordering page is set up correctly.

The product page says that EU customers will only have to pay shipping and VAT on top of that price but, when I tried to purchase, it whacked on a load of customs duties, bringing the price up to around $165 – which is quite a bit extra. Hopefully, that’s just a glitch which gets resolved soon.

On the plus side, Amazon has finally included other default languages on the Kindle, and is now available in UK English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Brazilian Portuguese (which may give us some indication as to which Kindle Stores will open next).

So, in short, there will be a lot of new e-reader owners over the next few months, and not just in the US. I’d better get back to work on that book.

Thoughts?