SEATTLE — Amid growing competition from Apple's iPad and other e-readers, Amazon.com is launching a redesigned Kindle that's smaller, faster and has WiFi and twice the battery life.
The $189 price and 6-inch screen size are the same, but the new version has an improved navigation system that replaces the Kindle's quirky joystick with a more standard control pad. It also has the higher-contrast display that debuted last month on the larger Kindle DX.
But the blockbuster is likely to be a $139 WiFi-only version of the new Kindle — the first without 3G cellular service — that could help Amazon maintain its lead position as the market surges in coming years.
"We think that will make a significant impact on the number of multi-Kindle households and just broaden the overall ability for people to get it," said Ian Freed, Amazon's vice president of Kindle.
The company began taking orders Thursday. They'll be shipped starting Aug. 27.
Amazon's not saying a lot about what's inside the new models, but it provided lots of specifications. They're 15 percent lighter and 21 percent smaller, and they turn pages 20 percent faster. The battery charge lasts four weeks, up from two weeks, and the device holds 3,500 books, up from 1,500 books.
Amazon also has finally added a light of sorts to the Kindle. For the new model, the company is releasing a $60 book cover with a slide-out LED light that's powered by the Kindle battery.
The bare-bones Kindle is also priced $10 less than a new WiFi-only version of the Nook e-reader that Barnes & Noble announced last month.
The Kindle's competition now includes the iPad, with its vivid color touch screen, and the Nook, which has a dual display with both color output and black and white for text.
Freed said the company considered adding a touch screen but found it interferes too much with the display.
Freed believes the Kindle can hold its own against the iPad, noting that "most books are black and white" and the Kindle's display is readable outdoors and in bright sunlight. At 8.7 ounces, it's about half the weight of an iPad.
Freed said Amazon has sold "millions" of Kindles and sales were up year-over-year in each of the past three months, especially after its price was cut to $189, from $259, in June.
James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research, estimates Amazon has sold about 4 million and will reach 6 million by the end of the year. He believes it has about two-thirds of the U.S. market.
In a report last week, he predicted 29.4 million people in the U.S. will own e-readers by 2015, up from 3.7 million at the end of 2009. Of the 20 percent of Americans thinking about buying an e-reader, 69 percent are considering a Kindle, the report said.