Amazon is widely expected to unveil its long-rumored tablet Sept. 28 at a New York City event.
According to an early September posting by TechCrunch’s MG Siegler, who had an opportunity to play with an early version of the tablet, Amazon’s device will feature a custom Android interface (complete with a tabbed Android Webkit browser and a dock for displaying available books and movies), a 7-inch screen, and 6GB of internal storage for media and applications.
Amazon offers an Android applications storefront in addition to a full collection of multimedia offerings, allowing it in theory to compete head-to-head against Apple’s iTunes and App Store. If Amazon’s tablet has a killer feature, though, it’s the reportedly low starting price: $250, which undercuts rivals on the market-including the Apple iPad-by a significant margin.
Should the online retailer indeed whip back the curtain from its tablet later this week, it will almost certainly alter the game for the following rivals:
RIM PlayBook: Although Research In Motion has positioned its PlayBook tablet as more of an enterprise device, it will go head-to-head against Amazon’s tablet by virtue of the 7-inch form-factor. (Samsung’s 7-inch Tab also falls into this category.) While a 7-inch screen hasn’t proven nearly as attractive a proposition for tablet manufacturers as ones in the 9- to 10-inch range, there is a market for tablets you can hold comfortably in one hand.
Barnes & Noble’s Nook: The bookseller’s full-color e-reader offers email, applications and Flash support. That wasn’t enough to make it a toe-to-toe competitor to the iPad or Motorola Xoom, but it proved more than capable of contesting Amazon’s grayscale Nook on its own merits. Amazon’s releasing a full-color tablet of its own would change the game yet again, and perhaps drive Barnes & Noble to play more defensively.
Other Android Manufacturers: Amazon brings its own multimedia storefront, branded application store and, apparently, unique look to its tablet. That could pressure other Android tablet manufacturers to raise their own game, with more robust multimedia offerings and perhaps different “skins” on the basic Android interface. Samsung is already taking steps in this direction with its TouchWiz interface and media hub.
Apple iPad: For many months, Apple has handily dominated the tablet market. Every successive “iPad killer” failed to reverse or blunt its blockbuster sales trend. Now Amazon’s tablet looks likely to debut at a radically lower price point, loaded with a full array of goods and services, and backed by the same smart, aggressive marketing efforts that turned the Kindle into the e-reader market’s dominant device. That could give Apple cause for worry, especially if the Amazon tablet’s cheaper cost attracts those consumers who have thus far held back from purchasing a touch-screen device out of price concerns.
If Amazon plans on launching the tablet in time for the holiday shopping season, it could spark some of the biggest tablet (and e-reader) battles yet. For some of the companies, the penalty for a weak showing could be the end of their tablet hopes.