Higher-Ed Gadget-Watchers React to Amazon’s New ‘Kindle Fire’ Tablet

Today Amazon unveiled a new tablet computer, the company’s long-awaited competitor to Apple’s iPad. Though it won’t go on sale until November, some gadget-happy college professors and administrators are already speculating about the impact it will have on campuses.

The big surprise in today’s announcement was the tablet’s price: $199. That’s far less than the lowest-cost iPad, which sells for $499. Amazon named its new gadget the Kindle Fire, and it is smaller than the iPad, measuring about 7 inches (compared with the iPad’s 10-inch screen), so it more easily fits in one hand. It is powered by a processor on par with the chip in Apple’s iPad 2, and it runs a modified version of Google’s Android-tablet operating system. Amazon’s offering is missing some features of the iPad, though. For instance, it has no camera (there are two on the iPad 2) and no 3G antenna (which is an option on the iPad).

Previous iPad competitors have failed to win substantial fan bases, but the Kindle Fire has one key advantage over previous entrants. The new tablet seamlessly links to Amazon’s extensive marketplace of books, software apps, movies, and television shows, letting users access content (and spend money) with a simple tap of the finger.

Many education-technology officials have been enthusiastic about tablet computers, hoping the lightweight devices might work better in classroom settings than do laptops. Textbook publishers have also cheered tablet computers, hoping they will lift e-textbook sales.

Here are some reactions by education-technology leaders posted today on Twitter and on blogs:

  • “Finally, college students have a cheaper iPad alternative. Finally, at long last, something to appease the student market.” —Zack Whittaker, ZD Net (reposted by Ray Schroeder, director of the University of Illinois at Springfield’s Center for Online Learning, Research, and Service, on his Online Learning Update blog).
  • “Great price and form factor. Will it support PDF’s and annotations is the question.” —Jeremy D. Franklin, a graduate student at the University of Utah studying the sociology of higher education, on Twitter.
  • “Use of Fire for e-textbooks is an obvious plus. Seems a little limited beyond that—a lot depends on what their browser will do.” —Robert Talbert, a mathematician and educator affiliated with the mathematics department at Grand Valley State University, and a Chronicle Network blogger, on Twitter.
  • “Kindles are going to be more common on campuses than cheap beer… I really think it has the potential to make tablet computing a mainstream activity on college campuses.” —Shep McAllister, on the blog Hack College.

Please add your thoughts in the comments.

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