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Fire in a Not-So-Crowded Theater

We're very excited about Amazon's announcement today of Kindle Fire and its little brothers. All of a sudden, the iPad has real competition for Santa's attention this holiday season, and what was once a crowded theater of competing tablets is reduced to two choices. Let us count the game-changers: • Pricepoint. $200 for a top-of-the-line device makes the entry-level $499 iPad seem expensive. The pressure is on Apple to bring down its price.

• Mass market potential. The marketplace for electronic books grows faster as a result of Amazon's pricing, and there will be more incentive for publishers to think digitally and cross-platform. WoodWing and Adobe stand to gain, with one-workflow-fits-all solutions.

• Simplicity. The clean interface makes the clunky Android tablets seem even clunkier. This is a tablet that seems easy to navigate, like the iPad.

• Form factor. The seven-inch tablet is here to stay, and the Fire's forebearers — the Samsung Galaxy Tab and even the Color Nook — seem ill-equipped to compete. Amazon's one-click ordering is the difference. Case in point: we were able to impulsively pre-order a pair of Fires without reaching for a credit card using our pre-existing Amazon account.

• Education. If I'm running a school district, it's a lot more likely I'll find the budget to put $79 Kindles in every knapsack rather than $499 iPads. When it comes to seeding tomorrow's consumers with today's devices, the schools are a battleground one can't overlook.

• The rest. 169 dpi vs 132 dpi for the iPad, although it's likely that a new iPad will up the ante, perhaps as soon as next week. There's no camera, but to be honest, using the iPad 2 camera is kind of awkward, like taking an xray. The 8GB storage capacity could be a limiting factor for multimedia content — even with the ability to stream media from Amazon's cloud servers. On the flip side, the ability to sync without a cable is awfully convenient, and more in line with trends toward distributed computing.

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