The Amazon tablet may soon be upon us. And unlike some other tablet manufacturers that tried-and failed-to bend the touch-screen market in their favor, the online retailer has a sizable chance of leaving a lasting impact.
TechCrunch's MG Siegler recently had an opportunity to play with an early version of the tablet and, in lieu of being able to snap photographs, did his best to describe its capabilities. In addition to a custom Android interface (complete with a tabbed Android Webkit browser and a dock for displaying available books and movies), the device offers a 7-inch screen and 6GB of internal storage for books and applications.
Those hardware features aren't necessarily enough to rock Apple's iPad back on its heels or carve out a sizable niche among the Android tablets currently on store shelves. However, Amazon offers an Android applications storefront in addition to a full collection of multimedia offerings, which could allow it to compete head-to-head against Apple's iTunes and App Store. Other tablet manufacturers have been slow to build robust multimedia hubs, and their products rely on Google's Android Marketplace for apps.
Amazon also boasts considerable marketing muscle, and its Kindle efforts have already smoothed the path, so to speak, for people to perceive the retailer as an effective mobile-technology producer.
But the killer app of Amazon's tablet-which has yet to be officially unveiled-isn't hardware or software. Nor is it Amazon's marketing or business skills. It's the low starting price: $250, which considerably undercuts other tablets currently available.
After Hewlett-Packard announced it would shut down production of its TouchPad tablet and slashed the retail cost to a mere $99, customers turned out in droves to purchase a respectable touch-screen device at a bargain. Amazon seems similarly positioned to feed that hunger for a low-cost, quality tablet.
That's not to say that Amazon has an easy path to victory in tablets. For one thing, it will have to compete against other Android tablets on the market, offered by some very aggressive and well-funded companies. Also, analysts generally predict that Apple's iPad will continue to command the lion's share of the market, which could make things difficult for any upstart trying to establish its own presence-whether or not the upstart in question is produced by one of the most recognizable brands in the world.
Third, based on MG Siegler's posting, it seems that Amazon is aiming squarely at the consumer market with its tablet offering. That would effectively close off businesses, which represent a growing segment of the tablet-buying population.
Nonetheless, Amazon seems ready to make a splashy entrance into the tablet market. Whether it can score iPad-size sales is more of a question.