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Tablet computers beware: Amazon Kindle Fire is only $199

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(Read caption) The Amazon Kindle Fire is shown at a press event in New York. The Kindle Fire is being positioned as a 'service,' not just one of the many tablet computers.

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At a press event on Wednesday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos finally took the wraps off the long-rumored, much-discussed Kindle Fire, a bantamweight tablet computer nimble enough to compete against the Apple iPad, Barnes and Noble Nook Color, and even cable TV subscriptions. The Fire will launch in mid-November – all the better to capitalize on the holiday shopping rush – and sell for $199, three-hundred bucks less expensive than the very cheapest iPad.

But Bezos seemed to caution against directly comparing the Fire to other tablet computers. "What we are doing is offering premium products at non-premium prices," Bezos said on Wednesday. "Other tablet contenders 'have not been competitive on price' and 'have just sold a piece of hardware.' We don’t think of the Kindle Fire as a tablet. We think of it as a service."

In that way, the Fire has much in common with the regular ol' Kindle, which has long been marketed as an inexpensive portal into the Amazon e-book library. Speaking of the black-and-white Kindle, Amazon today introduced a new touchscreen version of its flagship e-reader. The Wi-Fi only Kindle Touch arrives on Nov. 21, and will sell for $99; the 3G version gets the same shelf date, with $149 price tag.

Meanwhile, the non-touch Kindle will now sell for $79, Bezos said, beginning today. But it's the Fire that has ginned up the most buzz, and for good reason – by undercutting the iPad on price, Amazon's new device could come to dominate the entry-level tablet market. (As of now, the Fire is Wi-Fi only.)

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