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Amazon doubles down on new Kindles, skips fanfare

(MoneyWatch) As the market for tablet computers continues to grow, Amazon (AMZN) is bucking conventions around how it markets and sells its devices.

First, the company doubled down on its Kindle Fire, adding two new models with a low-end price of $139 and corporate-centric features it hopes will attract business users. Second, and more curiously, it eschewed the kind of splashy launch event it has used to publicize products in the past and that have become an industry hallmark of such roll-outs. Instead, Amazon quietly sent out press releases just after midnight.

Does the subdued commercial release mark a change of tactics for Amazon, or is it merely trying to control costs in a business with thin margins? It's not as though Amazon blew off seeking some media attention. A report in Time suggests the company invited a handful of tech journalists for an advance look at its new Kindle models.

Certainly, the approach contrasts with the glitzy showpieces Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) have staged in recent years for major product announcements, not to mention the big launch event that Amazon threw for its Kindle Fire last year. It also could be aimed at mollifying investors perturbed by the company's financial losses in recent quarters.

Whatever the reason for Amazon's low-key launch, its new tablets deserve some attention. The company on Tuesday introduced three new models. The Kindle Fire HDX comes with a 7-inch high-resolution display and retails for $229, while a version with an 8.9-inch screen sells for $379. Compared to the Fire, there's a much faster processor, double the memory, stereo speakers and what the company says is 11 hours of battery life. For $100 more, you can get 4G capabilities. Meanwhile, the newest Kindle Fire runs $139 and has a high-definition display, faster processor and stereo speakers.

Amazon has finally moved away from talking about its adapted version of Android and instead called it Fire OS (the new version number is 3.0). There are also integrated features, such as some security enhancements, the ability to send documents to a wireless printer, the inclusion of office software for editing and reading documents, single sign-on identity verification, and device management interfaces so the Fires can work with existing corporate mobile device management systems and make control of the tablets easier.

The company is also touting a new "mayday" button feature, providing 24-hour live tech support to walk users through how to use any feature. Of course, tablets are supposed to be intuitive and easy to use, so you might wonder whether things had gone wrong with the previous generation of Fires.

What these features might do for Amazon's sales is difficult to say because the company won't release numbers. One analyst's estimates put the total of Kindle Fires sold, as of August, at about 5 million. If so, the latest gear could bring new customers, although nowhere near as many as for a new iPad.