To beat Apple, Amazon's trying to be Apple

Amazon's upcoming Fire tablet is aimed directly at Apple's iPad efforts, and Amazon's dipped into the same playbook to take on its rival.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos pitches the Kindle Fire tablet at today's unveiling.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos pitches the Kindle Fire tablet at today's unveiling. Sarah Tew/CNET

commentary The long-awaited Amazon tablet is finally here, or at least will be when it ships out to consumers in early November.

Make no mistake about it, the 7-inch Kindle Fire--which was announced at an event this morning--has its sights set on Apple's iPad, as well as the bevy of other tablets that have hit the market. It lets users browse and buy touch-based applications, while tapping into any and all of Amazon's services, including the company's Web store. Amazon is also luring in buyers with a $199 price tag that comes in lower than most tablets.

But where Amazon is really trying to differentiate itself, and potentially get a leg up on Apple is by pulling a trick or two from the same playbook. In other words, to beat Apple, it's trying to be Apple.

The new tablet represents a total package of what users can get on other platforms if they were to add all of the company's apps together. On Android for instance, you can download Amazon's store application, its music player, and apps that tap into other Amazon services. With the Fire, you get them all when you first turn on the device.

Yet Amazon's also trying to create a custom user experience by including its own application store and Web browser called Silk. The Web browser is one of the key areas where Amazon can differentiate itself from Apple and other rivals, making use of its Elastic Compute Cloud technology to speed up browsing for tablet users by pre-loading some content ahead of when a user visits that page. By comparison, Apple's Safari uses a traditional browser design that makes its own direct connections to sites on the Internet.

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The browser makes up just a part of Amazon's larger Web strategy though. To ease buyers into buying digital goods, Amazon is making use of its cloud services, letting tablet users store their content on Amazon's servers free of charge.

For the past several months Apple's begun offering something identical as part of its iCloud service, letting users re-download digital content they've purchased from its stores and sync things up between devices. There again, Amazon's competing with that strategy using its Whispersync technology, which can sync up downloads, bookmarks, notes highlights, and a user's place in books and video content.

Media is another area where Amazon has taken a page from Apple's playbook, working out deals with media companies to deliver it to users through its various stores. Just last week, for instance, the company signed a streaming deal with 20th Century Fox to bring its programming to Amazon's streaming video service, one that Fire users will have out of the box. All told, that adds up to 17 million songs, 1 million books, and 100,000 movies and TV shows. The Fire also represents the first device from Amazon itself offering magazines in full-color.

Where Amazon continues to be different, however, is how it's approaching its presence on other platforms. While users must buy an Apple product to get Apple's software (short of the company's Safari Web browser), Amazon continues to offer its software and experience on other platforms, including other Android tablets. The Fire is the company's first effort to really make that experience its own. Something to watch for following the Fire's release is if Amazon chooses to take another page from Apple's book, and begin building an experience others can't.