Sept. 25--Amazon.com is unveiling its latest batch of Kindle Fire tablets Wednesday, offering sharper than ever pictures, snappier graphics, and an on-demand, on-device tech support feature that has its chief executive particularly giddy.
The company is taking preorders for three new models, with plenty of variation in hard-drive size and wireless connectivity. At $579, the priciest version will be the new Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 with an 8.9-inch screen, a 64 gigabyte hard drive and 4G wireless connectivity.
But Amazon is really targeting the lower end of the market. To compete against Apple's iPad and the variety of tablets that run Google's Android operating system, it's offering a new 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX with a 16-gigabyte hard drive for $229 (with advertising on the home screen). By comparison, Apple's 7.9-inch iPad mini with a 16-gigabyte hard drive runs $329.
Amazon continues to push hard on pricing, choosing to get its profits from the sales of media and services that run on the device rather than on the hardware itself.
"We want to make money when people use our devices, not when they buy our devices," Bezos said in an interview with The Seattle Times. "That's why we sell our devices at roughly break-even on the hardware. And then, when people use the devices, buying books or music or videos and so on, that's where we have an opportunity to make money."
The company is also launching a new 8-gigabyte Kindle Fire HD for $139. The device, though, runs on a slower processor than the HDX models and does not include a camera.
Amazon is also launching a case for the new models. Called Origami, it folds at various angles to create a stand for the devices in either portrait or landscape modes. The cases, which come in seven colors, attach magnetically. And the Origami case for the 8.9-inch Fire HDX includes a feature that automatically launches a rear-facing camera when the device is slid out to expose the camera.
"It's important that it be one quick motion, so that you can actually get the picture," Bezos said.
The feature that has Bezos most excited, though, is the Mayday button, a new tech support service that lets flummoxed Fire HDX users contact an Amazon representative from the device to get help. Tap the button -- any day, any time -- and a postage-stamp-sized video box will appear with an Amazon tech-support representative ready to help. The service will be free, and Bezos said Amazon's goal is to have representatives respond in 15 seconds or less.
"One of the most complicated things about doing tech support over the phone is that you have to ask the user to describe the current state of their device, which is very difficult," Bezos said. "The beta users who have played around with the Mayday button, their jaws hit the table."
Tech-support representatives will be able to guide users to fix problems, circling icons they need to touch and drawing arrows in the direction they need to swipe. Or they can simply fix the problem for customers themselves, without guiding the customer to the solution.
And while a live video feed of the representative will be on the customers' screens, their camera gets automatically turned off when they tap the Mayday button so tech representatives will not be able to see them.
The company is positioning Mayday as something of an iPhone Siri-like feature, an iconic offering that will set it apart from rivals. And Bezos expects Fire HDX customers to mess around with Mayday when it debuts, even if they don't need tech help.
"I think people are going to use it just to show it off to their friends. People are going to call just to say hi. All of which is OK with us," he said. "This is a 'wow' feature and we want people to use it."
And Mayday, which will be available when the devices ship, isn't just about guiding customers through tricky tech challenges. They can also tap Mayday to get advice on the latest games to buy or movies to watch, recommendations that Amazon will cull from its best-selling lists, but not the personalized suggestions that appear for customers