As Amazon reveals its debut tablet, chief reporter Nick Heath outlines three reasons why Apple’s dominance of the slate market could be under threat.

Amazon announced its assault on the tablet market today with the launch of a new family of Kindle slates.

The aggressively priced new Kindles come in two flavours. The first is a refresh of Amazon’s existing e-book reader line with two new devices: an ad-supported basic model at $79 and a touchscreen device, called the Kindle Touch, priced at $99.

The second is the launch of Amazon’s long-awaited Android tablet, the $199 Kindle Fire.

The only device confirmed to hit the UK is the entry-level e-reader, which is expected to launch on 12 October in Blighty and sell for £89. This six-inch device will have no keyboard and be smaller and lighter than previous Kindle models.

Kindle Fire

The Amazon Kindle Fire tablet will sell in the US for $199 – $300 less than the cheapest iPadPhoto: Amazon

The new range is an interesting line-up that strikes a solid balance between price and usability – here are three reasons why Amazon’s reimagined Kindle family could spell the end of Apple’s dominance of the tablet market.

1. The low price

The $199 Kindle Fire will be some $300 cheaper than the least expensive Apple iPad. The low price is a bold move by Amazon – other big-name manufacturers such as HTC, RIM and Samsung all attempted their own assaults on the iPad by launching tablets priced similarly to Apple’s device. By undercutting the premium tablet market, but still offering access to a wide range of apps and content, the Kindle Fire could persuade those previously put off by the high price to buy their first tablets.

Meanwhile, the $79 price tag for the basic Kindle e-reader is low enough to make the device almost an impulse buy.

2. The content

The shortcoming of many of Apple’s competitors in the tablet market has been lack of an ecosystem – a contrast to Apple’s bulging-at-the-seams App Store and iTunes.

When the Kindle Fire launches, Amazon claims it will have access to some 18 million songs, movies, TV shows, books, magazine, apps and games. Amazon already has a mature cloud infrastructure offering streaming video and on which to serve future content. It has also reportedly signed deals with several publishers such as Conde Nast, Hearst and Meredith to have digital versions of their magazines ready to purchase at launch.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said most content on the Kindle Fire will be backed up to the cloud, and will wirelessly sync to the device. The company’s free Whispersync network, which delivers digital books to the Kindle, will also work with movies and television shows.

Books will also make use of the X-Ray service, which will bring up Wikipedia information relevant to the text users are reading.

3. Ease of use

The Kindle Fire packs in many of the features that make the Apple iPad so easy to pick up and use: it has a touchscreen with multitouch support along with a higher resolution display than the iPad, with 169 pixels per inch compared to the Apple iPad’s 132 pixels per inch.

Amazon also claims that the Fire will offer a fast browsing experience courtesy of the new Amazon Silk web browser. The browser will cache sites that users visit regularly ahead of time in order to allow them to load faster, as well as compressing large files to use less bandwidth when they download.

The Kindle Fire will use an older version of Android intended for smartphones, but Amazon has remade the user interface to give it a different feel to rival tablets.

Meanwhile, a dual-core processor under the hood should ensure the Fire feels nippy and has the grunt to match Apple’s 1GHz dual-core custom A5 chip.

The Fire is also a bit of a looker in sleek graphite-grey and weighing in at 14.6 ounces.

The Kindle Fire does lack some notable features found on high-end tablets, such as a camera, microphone and 3G access.

It could be argued that the lack of 3G will hamper the device’s capabilities when it comes to browsing. However, Amazon’s focus on subscription services should allow users to load up on magazines, videos and other content via their home wi-fi so it is questionable how much of a drawback the lack of 3G will be. Ultimately, these compromises may prove to be sensible in light of the oh-so-attractive low price point.

At the lower end of its product range, the new Kindle Touch combines an intuitive touchscreen interface with an easy-to-read e-ink Kindle screen and the ability to buy books anywhere through Amazon’s Whispernet network.