In last week’s Build and Analyze, we speculated about what the future Amazon tablet might be, fitting the most credible rumors we’ve heard so far. (This is basically an expanded version of that, so if you listened, parts will be repetitive.)
Dan Provost made some great points in response, and I think he’s on target except for the screen technology. I don’t think color e-ink is product-ready yet. Even if it could match the resolution and response time of today’s grayscale e-ink displays, that’s still nowhere near good enough to play video, animate anything, or smoothly scroll a page. I doubt that color (or probably even grayscale) e-ink will ever be fast enough for those roles. So I’m ruling out its use for a rich-media tablet, and I think that’s what the Amazon tablet will be, so I’m betting on an LCD screen.
Here’s what I’m guessing the Amazon tablet will be, and I don’t think we’ve heard any credible rumors that suggest that any of the major points are wrong:
Something similar to the Nook Color: an inexpensive, low-end 7” tablet with a backlit color LCD capacitive touchscreen covered in glass. (Or, in layman’s terms: like the iPad, but slower, smaller, and cheaper.)
Amazon will go to great lengths to get very good battery life, even at the expense of thinness or lightness. While it won’t match the e-ink Kindles, it will probably provide at least 12 hours of reading time at low brightness.
Like the Kindle 3, it’s going to feel cheap, but most people won’t care, because it will be cheap.
Android. But not the way you might assume.
The Nook Color runs Android, but you’d never know it: it’s buried under B&N’s completely custom interface and applications. There’s no Android Market to download apps, no Gmail, no Google Maps, no Google-anything. Saying it “runs Android” is like saying the HP TouchPad “runs Linux”: it’s more of a low-level technicality than any indication of what its customers see and use.1
I see Amazon doing the same thing: Android 2.x under the hood, but an Amazon UI with Amazon apps for all core functionality. And, importantly, the Amazon Appstore — and not Google’s Android Market.
This is almost certain, because in all likelihood, they don’t have a choice. Amazon probably wants to have so much control over the software (which is wise) that they’d never pass Google’s “compatibility” requirements for being an officially branded Android device, so Google won’t let Amazon use their standard (and very closed) app suite.
It’s better for Amazon this way: they can control the entire experience, their Appstore will gain a large captive audience, and they won’t rely on Google for any technical or branding dependencies. Few customers would ever realize that they’re using an Android device.
All of Amazon’s content stores will be available and prominent: ebooks, newspapers, magazines, music, video, and apps.
The content, not games or apps or communication or productivity, will be the focus in the tablet’s marketing and its interface.
Video and news-browsing will be major upselling points from the e-ink Kindle and will likely be emphasized in the interface.
Availability and positioning
Kindle is a very strong and successful brand for Amazon. The name will include “Kindle”, such as Kindle Touch, Kindle Color, or Kindle Tablet.
It will be available within the next year, possibly very soon for the holiday season.
It will not replace the e-ink Kindle, but will be an additional product above it, like a “deluxe” Kindle.
It will cost around $249 unsubsidized or $199 with ads (“Special Offers”).
In other words, it will be very similar to the Nook Color, but with the strength of Amazon’s content stores and retail power behind it, which I think will make it a much bigger success than the Nook Color.
I see it taking over much of the low-cost market: people who buy inexpensive gadgets on Black Friday at Wal-Mart, currently served by a bunch of awful, dirt-cheap tablets that geeks like us have never heard of from companies like Sylvania. (But if Amazon can’t or won’t sell it in big-box stores, that’s going to inhibit this role.)
Relevance to the iPad
With aggressive pricing and heavy promotion on Amazon’s site, they’re going to sell a lot of these. It’s certainly going to be inconvenient for the iPad, because some buyers will unquestionably pick the much cheaper Kindle tablet instead. It will probably be the only non-iPad tablet that will sell in enough volume anytime soon that anyone needs to think about it.
But I’m not sure that it will significantly hurt iPad sales. It’s probably not targeting the same market. If people want an iPad, they typically want an iPad — they don’t first decide that they want “a tablet” and then go find the tablet that they like best.
And the iPad’s entry price won’t always be $499. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a cut to $399 for the holidays, and I bet the next iPad’s entry-level price will be $399. But I don’t think Apple plans to (or wants to) compete in the $200-tablet market for the foreseeable future.
The Amazon tablet will be much more like the Kindle: an alternative, inexpensive device dedicated to Amazon’s content stores, bought and used primarily for reading books, browsing the newspaper, and watching movies.
Some people who would have bought an iPad will buy the Amazon tablet instead, but many people will buy it in addition to an iPad, and many of its exclusive buyers wouldn’t (or couldn’t) have bought an iPad instead.
Nothing’s getting “killed”, except maybe some of those cheap Sylvania-etc. tablets, but it’s going to be an important and successful product that will deserve our attention.
Nook Colors can be rooted to run a more typical Android environment, but most customers will never do this. ↩︎