Amazon‘s entry to the tablet market is long rumored. It was presaged by its own Android App Store, which was modeled after Apple‘s App Store and was better in many important ways than Google‘s marketplace. We’re now pretty sure Amazon’s tablet, powered by Android, is imminent.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Amazon tablet’s screen will be roughly nine inches and will run Android–though we don’t know what edition. It won’t have a camera, and Amazon will outsource design and production to an Asian manufacturer–music to the ears of critics who think Kindle design left something to be desired. This detail could also suggest that high production quality is important–the manufacturer would have to come up with something uber-slick if Amazon’s just going to take it as-is.
The lack of camera is also interesting. Apple followed this route with the original iPad, because it was a trailblazer and, frankly, Apple could get away with it. But it resulted in a good deal of criticism. The iPad 2 now has two cameras, one for web video calls, and a fairly low-res rear-facing camera for image capture. Android tablets tend to have two cameras, and some have three. Inclusion of imaging hardware allows all sorts of sophisticated uses including video chats and object recognition via web apps like Google Goggles…and this is something Amazon is taking a pass on.
The rumored screen size is interesting as well–it looks like Amazon is aiming at the iPad and higher-end Android tablets, and is thus adopting a screen tech much bigger than found on its current standard Kindle devices (which roughly equates to a large paperback page in size). Assuming the Amazon tablet will also be primarily used for reading e-books, we can surmise that Amazon has its eye on the information, graphics, and color-rich magazine and textbook markets with the new device.
One other rumor suggests a 10.1-inch device has been contracted by Amazon from Foxconn–which is Apple’s favored manufacturer for iPad and iPhone devices.
That’s about all we know about the hardware, but we can speculate: A large touchscreen, basic button controls for volume and such (ideal for audiobooks), and possibly a Wi-Fi-only option coming alongside a more capable 3G-connected device–that may, or may not use Amazon’s free Whispernet service–because that would echo Amazon’s Kindle strategy.
It’s hard to say whether Amazon will go for Android 3.x Honeycomb–the latest, greatest, and most tablet-centric OS from Google. But Honeycomb will work best on higher-end hardware (it won’t be coming to smartphones, for example), and would seem to be more suited to a full tablet experience that includes photo and video-taking.
If Amazon is indeed shunning a camera, it may go for a custom UI overlay on top of a more basic Android installation, one that would keep the customer’s habits very closely tied to Amazon (with direct links to its e-bookstore, web store, and app marketplace). It could deliver a tight, slick user experience that wouldn’t come undone if it chose to run slightly cheaper hardware inside the tablet.
Sectioning off a part of the new Amazon app store to support the tablet would be effortless, and Amazon could easily attract developers to this specialist target because it could leverage the millions of Kindles it’s already sold, promising sizable income to potential developers. Are we talking the full app suite here? Probably not. Games of the simpler type, sure, and educational and reference apps. We imagine Amazon may shy away from anything too sophisticated, because it may prefer to keep the tablet experience tightly constrained to an e-book reading environment (as well as movies and video content from Amazon).
As the WSJ notes, some consumers are definitely looking for a tablet computer–tapping the iPad meme–but at a lower cost. Amazon could do this, if it were strict with component choices or adopted an ad-supported model, as it’s trying out on various Kindles now.
Amazon could be aiming at an audience that really likes the simplicity of the e-ink based Kindles, but would love a more colorful screen and basic interactivity like surfing the web with a real browser (unlike the Kindle’s horrid, hobbled browser), and checking their email or Twitter. If it delivered all this in a Wi-Fi-only device that hit well below Apple’s market-shattering $499 entry point for the iPad, then it could have a hit on its hands–as well as a vehicle to push its e-books, movies, and music. This may provide insight on Amazon’s cloud music locker–should the tablet have limited internal storage, to control costs, Amazon could offer user content over the Web.
The business model, then, seems inspired by, but not identical to, Apple’s, with a more tightly defined audience than Google’s. It could just be the sweet spot for Amazon.