Amazon is getting ready to release a 7” Android-based color, back-lit tablet priced at US$250, according to TechCrunch, which claimed to have seen and held the device. The device will be marketed under the Kindle brand, and it will be the first “Kindle” with a capacitive touch screen interface.
Reporting for TechCrunch, MG Siegler said that the unit he was shown was a Design Verification Testing model that is circulating around Amazon currently, and the company plans on releasing it near the end of November.
Amazon Joins the Tablet Fray?
With a 7” screen, the device is roughly the same size as Research In Motion’s BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, and Mr. Siegler said the two tablets look very similar. It’s also the same size as Barnes & Noble’s Nook Color e-reader.
Also like the Nook Color, Amazon’s new tablet runs Android, but the company has forked Android and put a completely-Amazon-centric interface on it. Amazon’s online store is always one tap away, it features the company’s Amazon Cloud Player for a music player, and, of course, a Kindle app for reading ebooks.
While Google is the default search engine in the built-in browser, there are no other apps or even access to Google’s Android Marketplace. Amazon has launched its own Amazon Appstore for Android in direct competition with Google.
Indeed, Amazon supposedly hasn’t worked with Google on this device in any way, and there are no Google apps on it. The Amazon-designed interface was built on an unspecified version of Android before version 2.2 of the OS, and the company plans to continue building on this for the future.
“In other words,” Mr. Siegler wrote, “this won’t be getting ‘Honeycomb’ or ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’—or if it does, users will never know it because that will only be the underpinnings of the OS. Any visual changes will be all Amazon.”
In our other words, Amazon appears to have taken what it needs from Android without giving much of anything back to Google or Android. The company is coming about as close as it can to offering a whole-widget device built around the company’s extensive content ecosystem. The design and manufacturing are most likely outsourced, but Amazon is controlling the interface, the pace of change on the OS, and access to content.
If any of that sounds familiar, this reporter will (not at all) humbly point out that in May, he wrote that Amazon is one of only two companies that can compete with iPad, and that the key to doing so would be building a device around its content ecosystem.
Even though this first Kindle tablet will feature only a 7” display, smaller than Apple’s 9.7” iPad, a $250 price tag combined with a simple, Kindle/Amazon-centric interface may well find a ready customer pool, especially considering the company’s direct marketing access to hundreds of millions of customers around the globe.
In summary, Apple may finally get a proper competitor to the iPad later this fall. If the hardware feels cheap or the screen looks like crap, even a $250 price tag won’t help Amazon move a lot of these devices.
If the hardware is adequate—the company’s existing Kindle e-readers have always gotten at least “good enough” passes—if the screen is at least good enough, and if the company really has developed a solid interface that makes it easy for customers to find the wealth of content available through Amazon, including ebooks, music, movies, and TV shows, a $250 price tag will likely be enough to overcome the differences in comparative iPad quality to find plenty of buyers.