(USA Today) -- Amazon's evolution as a hardware maker picked up pace Thursday when it unveiled an array of Kindle tablets, some more sophisticated and some cheaper.
The Kindle Fire HD now has several versions, starting at $199, and there is a new lighted e-reader called Paperwhite.
The company's end goal remains getting customers to buy more content from its online stores even as it doubles down on its devices in hopes that customers consider them before buying an iPad or other highly anticipated competitors, such as Google's Nexus tablet.
At a press event in Santa Monica, Calif., CEO Jeff Bezos emphasized that the company's Kindle tablets - now made larger and faster than current models - will offer unique experiences even though they use the same Android operating system installed in competitors' products.
The company's new lineup likely will put pressure on Apple, which has loyal customers but whose relatively high prices have left an opening for rivals to get customers with cheaper but similar-enough alternatives.
Apple's iPads start at $499 each. The company is expected to introduce a smaller iPad at a time when customers are looking to buy devices with 7-inch screens priced at or below $200.
With Amazon's low-end tablets starting at $159 each, Bezos hinted that the devices aren't meant to be a profit driver, but rather a conduit for more sales of digital books, songs, games and videos offered online.
Amazon's library now contains 120,000 movies and TV episodes and 100,000 audiobooks. "We want to make money when people use our devices, not when they buy our devices, Bezos says.
New products and features Amazon announced Thursday:
• Kindle Fire HD. The highlight of the event, Kindle Fire HD is a new tablet model that will come in two sizes, have a clearer display and a faster processing speed for downloading digital content.
While designed to compete with iPad and other larger tablets, the new 8.9-inch display model - with 1,920 by 1,200 pixel resolution - will carry a $299 price tag, making it cheaper than many competitors. It'll take orders for the 8.9-inch model today, which will begin shipping Nov. 20.
The 7-inch model, with 16 gigabytes of storage, will be priced at $199. It'll ship starting Sept. 14.
The Fire HD will contain two speakers, an industry first. With the touch sensor on the display laminated, it'll have less glare for reading outdoors.
"We were happy last year to have the best tablet at a certain price. This year we want to have the best tablet at any price," Bezos says.
• Amazon experience. Several user-friendly features, unavailable in other Android tablets, were added to Kindle Fire HD, aimed at buying more content a seamless experience even when customers change or update devices.
Its "Whispersync" feature, which was used for downloading and syncing books, has been broadened to include audio and games. The feature allows you to read a book and pick it up in the audio format when driving to work the next day. The games played and interrupted can be picked up on another device.
The new x-ray feature for movies and books provides more in-depth information about authors, book characters and actors as users consume digital content. X-ray for textbooks is a glossary for additional learning material, including descriptions from Wikipedia.com.
Knowing kids are increasingly taking over their parents' tablets, Amazon is also introducing Kindle Free Time that will set a time limit for kids' usage. A new e-mail app will sync messages from Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo accounts.
For video gamers, Gold Box will provide links for buying affiliated physical toys on Amazon.
• Kindle Fire. Amazon is also updating its current Kindle Fire tablet by doubling its processing speed and lowering price. The company says it's 40% faster with a longer battery life. At $159, it's $40 cheaper. It'll ship Sept. 14. Introduced last year, Kindle Fire now makes up 22% of tablet sales in the U.S., Amazon says.
• Kindle Paperwhite. Aimed at bed-time readers, the new Kindle Paperwhite is an e-reader with backlit lighting spread throughout the entire display. With more pixels, the display will be clearer than its other e-readers, Bezos says.
With the light on, it has eight weeks of battery life. Priced at $119, it'll ship on Oct. 1. The 3G-model, which allows users to download content without a wi-fi connection, is priced at $179.
• Kindle Touch. Its entry-level e-reader will have its price cut to $69. But the product, which will ship on Sept. 14, will contain ads.
• New data plan. For customers who seek freedom to download content where and whenever they want, Amazon also introduced a data plan that will cost $50 year. But it only offers 250 megabytes per month, enough to check e-mail and download several books, as well as 20 GB of cloud storage.
Amazon also pushed its services for self-publishing authors. Its Kindle Direct Publishing, which allows writers to self-publish in hours for free, gives authors 70% of royalties. Of the top 100 paid Kindle books, 27 are Kindle Direct Publishing books.
Its new Kindle Serials will allow customers to read books in installments. After the initial purchase, customers will receive all future episodes. Amazon is reissuing Dickens Pickwick Club and Oliver Twist to kick off Kindle Serials.