Amazon Wednesday unveiled two Kindle Fire HDX tablets with features that indicate a clear attempt to attract business users to the platform.
The 7-in. HDX is slated to begin shipping on Oct. 18 for $229 ($329 for a 4G version for either AT&T or Verizon Wireless). An 8.9-in. version will cost $379 but won't ship until Nov. 7, with a 4G variant priced at $479.
The biggest enterprise-centric features are contained in what Amazon calls its updated Fire OS 3.0 "Mojito" that's built on Android. An over-the-air 3.1 update of Mojito is promised for mid-November.
The business-class features include hardware and software encryption, secure Wi-Fi for access to corporate apps and SharePoint, a native VPN client and single sign-on capabilities, Amazon said.
Android enterprise and productivity apps such as GoToMeeting, Evernote, Cisco AnyConnect and Documents To Go, can be found at the Amazon AppStore.
Kindle-specific device management APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) are included so that IT workers can manage the HDX devices through Mobile Device Management software vendors like AirWatch, Citrix, Fiberlink, and Google Technology, Amazon said.
Amazon created a "Kindle Fire for Work" Web page that describes some of the new features, such as a "robust corporate e-mail experience" using Exchange email with ActiveSync "that keeps you connected to your company's Exchange server while also meeting IT's security policies."
The new hardware appears to be designed with enterprise users -- and consumers -- in mind.
For instance, there is a unique "Mayday" button that when pressed will bring live, free tech support within 15 seconds. Some early reviewers have already questioned the privacy of the Mayday function.
Amazon said the battery life offers all day use -- up to 11 hours of mixed use at a time. The 8.9-in. model is a light 13.2 ounces, or 34% lighter than the current model and the lightest large-screen tablet on the market. By comparison, the device is nearly 10 ounces lighter than the 9.7-in. Apple iPad.
Brighter, better definition displays on the devices include a 1920 x 1200 one with 323 pixels per inch in the smaller version and 2560 x 1600, or 339 PPI in the larger version. Amazon boasted that both models will have three times faster processing power than the last generation of Kindles, with 2.2 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processors.
For some analysts and reviewers, it comes as a mild surprise that Amazon is pitching its tablets to workers looking to use the device at work, especially since the smaller tablets seem more suited for consuming than for productivity. Amazon seems to have anticipated such concerns, by citing a statement from ROI Training, a corporate user of previous Kindle Fire tablets, proclaiming that its use of the device has made it easier for its employees to stay productive at both work and home.
Kindle is already the second most popular tablet at work in the U.S., said Amazon's Raghu Murthi, vice president of enterprise and education, in a statement. "As employees increasingly bring their own devices to work, the new Kindle Fire tablets can easily be integrated into the workplace with the new enterprise features." Murthi said.
Microsoft this week unveiled the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablets, both with 10.6-in. displays that allow them to approach laptop capabilities when used with covers that double as keyboards. Microsoft adapted the tablet kickstand of both devices to work in two positions to enable them to be used more easily as laptops.
Analysts believe larger displays are considered better for maximum productivity, while 7-in. to 8-in. displays are generally seen as consumption devices, for reading books and watching videos. In its new tablets, Amazon stuck with the smaller form-factor and at the same time chose to market them as productivity devices for workers and consumers, while noting that many customers will use the machines for both work and personal use.
It remains to be seen how Amazon's new enterprise-ready features will resonate.
IDC and other analyst firms have noted a strong trend toward sales of smaller tablets in the 7-in. to 8-in. size to business users, and even the iPad mini, at 7.9-in. is designed to capitalize on that trend. Amazon benefits from a huge online store of products and services that will resonate with all kinds of tablet customers, analysts have said.
"Amazon hasn't had much traction with Fire tablets in the enterprise, but they're clearly targeting that group more [with HDX]," said IDC anayst Tom Mainelli. "It remains to be seen if they'll have any luck there, but they are putting the right features into the products to make that happen."
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His email address is email@example.com.