Amazon announced a number of updates to its Kindle line-up today, but some of the most compelling additions were elements of the Kindle Fire operating system itself. Amazon detailed a number of new additions aimed at enhancing the experience for device owners including Kindle FreeTime, X-Ray support for movies and textbooks, and an updated email client.
Kindle X-Ray is a discovery service for various pieces of content in Amazon's ecosystem that was first announced last year for books, but Amazon is adding two more types of content: movies and textbooks. When watching a movie, users can activate X-Ray, which will then provide a list of actors in a given title (Jennifer Lawrence in Hunger Games was the example shown off by Amazon's Jeff Bezos). From there users can see what other movies that actor has starred in — results are powered by IMDb — and add other pieces of content to their queue for viewing later. X-Ray was also shown off for textbooks; different words and phrases can be triggered to activate a live, web-based glossary for further exploration.
For parents that want to let their children use their Kindle Fire HD without worry, Kindle FreeTime offers the kind of control they may be looking for. It's essentially custom usage profiles for individual children in the family, letting users set the amount of overall time they want their children to have access to the device, or drill down with time allotments for specific use cases: reading books, watching video, and using apps were all noted. The screen of the device also turns blue when FreeTime is activate, letting parents see at a glance if their kids are using the device in the proper mode — and multiple FreeTime profiles are available if parents want to give different restrictions to different members of the family.
The email client has also seen a refresh — an interesting point of emphasis given the Kindle Fire's e-reader origins. The speedier client now features Exchange support, improved syncing, and support for Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo.
Rounding things out is a new custom Facebook client, which will allow users to share highlights from the books they're reading directly to the social network and connect with Facebook friends that are gamers — though it wasn't clear if there was additional sharing involved or if the game functionality was it was simply a matching service. Kindle Fire HD owners will also be able to take advantage of that device's front-facing camera thanks to its own Skype implementation with a "custom" HD integration.
The new additions join Whispersync for Games and the Kindle Fire's new Immersion Reader and voice sync features, and will be coming to the previous generation Kindle Fire in the coming weeks. The full set make the Kindle Fire much more than a generic consumption device, turning it into a much more capable competitor when facing the full-featured iPad and Nexus 7. Whether consumers will like the change — and eat up this new generation of Kindle Fires as quickly as they did the original — still remains to be seen.