Stephan Lee
November 11, 2011 AT 05:00 AM EST

Long speculated to be the only viable challenger to the iPad, Amazon’s compact, affordable Kindle Fire — $199 versus the Apple device’s $499 sticker price — will blaze onto the tablet scene Nov. 15. Though Apple shouldn’t be feeling much heat. In addition to a different price point, the Fire fills a different niche — one that attracts the Amazon diehard.

”It’s really not a direct competitor to the iPad in any way, shape, or form,” says Michael Gartenberg, research director at the technology research and advisory firm Gartner. He calls it a ”barely tablet” but doesn’t mean that as criticism. ”You’re not going to use [the Fire] for content creation — it’s totally about content consumption.” While the Fire won’t have many of the robust content-creation capabilities of the iPad 2, it’s designed to utilize Amazon Prime, a $79-per-year service that includes streaming video and book borrowing through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. Gartenberg says, ”One of the things Amazon did correctly was they built up the ecosystem of services first and then brought the device to market.”

If anything, the Fire will compete with the slightly pricier Nook Tablet ($249) from Barnes & Noble, which hits shelves Nov. 18. During the Nov. 7 unveiling of the new Nook, Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch disparaged the Fire, calling it ”deficient” as an entertainment tablet and a ”vending machine for Amazon services.” But while the Nook boasts in-store technical support and more storage space on its devices, it’s currently lacking an integrated marketplace on the level of iTunes or Prime — though it will come preloaded with apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Pandora. With the release of the Kindle Fire, Gartenberg believes Amazon Prime could become ”the 21st-century Sears catalog.”

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