Like two blockbuster summer movies vying for the same audience Apple and Amazon are making major product announcements a week apart. In Amazon's case it was the Fire, a tablet version of its Kindle e-reader unveiled earlier this week. Apple's October 4 announcement is most likely to be the iPhone 5, although the company is being characteristically cagey about its first big event since Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO.

Whereas Apple's latest is likely to include some highly anticipated yet iterative improvements—more RAM, a voice-control system, etc.—to its iPhone lineup, Amazon has made some especially interesting choices in growing the Kindle family.

With Fire, Amazon is leveraging its backend data center infrastructure—aka "the cloud"—to offload some of the handheld device's processing workload. To do this Amazon created its own Silk Web browser. Amazon says that Silk represents a decentralized approach to Web browsing, accomplished by splitting up different responsibilities between local and cloud components. Silk uses Amazon's computer servers to create a large memory cache that stores common files such as images, JavaScript and cascading style sheets used to render frequently viewed Web pages. This cache doesn't take up any storage on the Kindle itself.

Amazon designed Silk to track users' Web site preferences over time so that it can anticipate where those users wish to browse and cache those sites ahead of time. Those concerned about privacy issues can opt to switch Silk to an "off-cloud" mode where Web pages go directly to the Fire rather than through Amazon's backend servers, although the company notes that this may slow the device's Web browsing somewhat.

Whereas Amazon kept the cost of the Fire low ($199) through the exclusion of a digital camera, Bluetooth and cellular connectivity, and a GPS, the company chose an advertising-subsidized approach to drop prices on its other Kindle models, including a new touch-screen version. Amazon actually introduced advertising to its Kindle devices in May, and the company claims these models—which cost up to $50 less than the unsubsidized models—are now its best selling. The ads show up on the Kindles as screensavers or as a banner on their home page but don't appear in the actual e-books. The company has not announced this type arrangement for the Fire.

So the mobile device market has shifted a bit as newly minted Apple CEO Tim Cook prepares to take center stage for the first time next week. The iPad may have a new competitor but at least Amazon didn't introduce a new smartphone.

Image courtesy of Amazon