SANTA MONICA, Calif. — You couldn’t miss the symbolism: In its latest push into Apple’s territory, Amazon.com Inc. used a California airport hangar to launch its latest devices.
Or maybe it was just baiting the media with pun opportunities – seeing how many “launch” and “take-off” headlines it could get for its new gadgets, including a new 9-inch version of the Kindle Fire and an illuminated Kindle e-reader.
Amazon also unveiled a $499 tablet with 4G LTE service that it plans to sell for $50 per year.
“We love to invent. We love to pioneer. We even like going down alleys that turn out to be blind alleys,” CEO Jeff Bezos said in opening the event. “Of course, every once in a while one of those blind alleys opens up into a broad avenue, and that’s really fun.”
“People don’t want gadgets anymore. They want services,” he said, then played a video ad for the new Kindle Paperwhite with a new, illuminated screen.
The new Kindle Paperwhite is 9.1 millimeters thick and weighs 7.5 ounces, and has a battery that lasts eight weeks between charges. The Paperwhite is on sale for $119 with deliveries starting Oct. 1. A version with 3G wireless is $179.
A new feature predicts the amount of time it will take to complete a chapter, based on the device’s analysis of users’ reading pace.
Also updated is Amazon’s entry-level Kindle, which is dropping in price from $79 to $69.
Bezos then introduced two new versions of the color Kindle Fire. The basic model is getting improved processing power and a price drop, from $199 to $159.
He also unveiled entirely new Kindle Fire HD models, including a new, larger model with an 8.9 inch display, which is just slightly smaller than Apple’s iPad.
The 7-inch Fire HD version with 16 gigabytes of memory will cost $199 and ship Sept. 14. The 8.9-inch Fire HD with 16 GB of memory will cost $299 and ship Nov. 20.
A higher-end version with 4G LTE wireless and 32 GB of memory will sell for $499 and ship Nov. 20. Amazon is offering the LTE service directly, charging $50 per year for 250 megabytes per month plus 20 gigabytes of online storage.
Features include stereo speakers and Dolby Digital Plus sound processing.
The new Fire also has improved email capabilities, including Exchange sync, and special apps built by Facebook and Skype.
Also new on the HD is “Whispersync” for voice and games, which lets people listen to audio books or play games and later resume where they left off.
Noting that he has four kids and there’s tension between screen time and other activities, Bezos announced Kindle FreeTime, which lets users set up profiles for different users and add time limits and other parental controls. In “FreeTime” mode the screen turns blue so parents can see it’s activated from across the room.
“I know, genius,” Bezos joked.
To improve the wireless performance, Amazon gave the HD dual antennas and MIMO Wi-Fi technology. Bezos spent awhile explaining this technology, with the punchline being that the Kindle Fire HD has 41 percent faster Wi-Fi than the Apple iPad 3 and 54 percent faster Wi-Fi than Google’s Nexus 7.
Amazon is updating its hardware lineup ahead of a holiday season that will see intense competition among tablet devices, especially at the lower-end, 7-inch range that includes the Kindle Fire and Google Nexus. Amazon also is competing with Barnes & Noble’s Nook, which already sells an illuminated e-reader.
The hardware update comes as the market for dedicated e-readers such as the original Kindle is tapering, especially in the U.S., with consumers moving toward color media tablets such as Apple’s dominant iPad.