The Android Alternative: Amazon's Kindle Tablet

The Android Alternative: Amazon's Kindle Tablet

Summary: What happens when Google's Android universe meets Amazon's? Like in Star Trek, the "Alternative Factor" could be a battle of epic proportions.

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On Wednesday, September 28, 2011, after over a year of speculation and punditry, the Amazon Kindle Tablet will finally make its appearance.

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What do we know about this thing? Well, for starters, it will be cheap -- likely around $249.00 and bundled with incentives and special services. It will be more portable than an iPad, with a 7" screen. It will likely have less built-in storage than an iPad and probably forgo a built-in camera.

[UPDATE: Amazon has priced the device at $199.00]

And according to TechCrunch's MG Siegler, who professes to have actually seen the device in question, the tablet is called the "Kindle Fire."

Other than an extremely competitive price, the main takeaway is that it will run some form of the Android operating system, as well as homegrown Amazon apps and services and the Amazon Appstore for Android.

In other words, an alternate universe to Google's Android Market. Matter versus Antimatter.

I'm sure every 40-something and over geek reading this remembers the classic Star Trek episode, "The Alternative Factor." That would be #27, from the Original Series. You know, the only incarnation anyone really gives a crap about.

If you haven't seen it, here's the episode in a nutshell: The Enterprise crew encounters an erratically-behaving, seemingly insane humanoid alien named Lazarus who claims to have been travelling through time and space to seek out a terrible monster who destroyed his home planet centuries ago, and he's determined to exact revenge on it.

It's eventually revealed that this "Monster" is really a perfectly sane twin of Lazarus from an antimatter dimension, and in order to save our own universe from destruction (should the two meet, it would cause total annihilation of both universes, converting the both into a massive blast of pure energy) the two are shoved into a "dimensional corridor" (a wormhole) that separates their two dimensions.

The episode concludes in which the entrances to both universes are cut off, and Lazarus and his antimatter twin end up doing battle for eternity trapped in the "dimensional corridor".

Of course, today we know a bit more about antimatter and cosmology than we did in March of 1967, when this episode first aired. Antimatter may very well exist floating around in our own universe, and may be key to understanding how it all began.

Still, the epic never-ending battle between Lazarus and anti-Lazarus in classic Star Trek is an appropriate comparison to what Amazon and Google are about to engage in with their respective Android OSes and developer ecosystems.

Unless, of course, one manages to completely annihilate the other.

The idea of parallel Android universes isn't new, and Amazon almost certainly won't be the only one.

For example, there have been specialized app stores such as MiKandi which address the adult content community.

Additionally, sometime in October, Research In Motion (RIM) plans to release an update for its QNX tablet operating system on its BlackBerry PlayBook that will allow it using a special "Player" environment to run Android 2.3.x (Gingerbread) applications and will allow developers to submit re-packaged versions of their applications to their BlackBerry App World.

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However, Amazon is the only alternative entity so far that has pre-seeded its own Appstore with tens of thousands of Android applications, essentially doing a "dress rehearsal" on other people's devices via a side-load.

I will admit that Amazon has done a really good job with the Appstore, and I like it even better than Google's own Android Market, not to mention that it runs a lot more stable than Android Market on Honeycomb 3.x tablets.

I also like the fact that they give away a free commercial application every day.

Up until now, however, the Amazon Appstore has been simply an optional add-on to Android smartphones and tablets. There hasn't been tremendous developer incentive as of yet to devote a lot of energy to it.

With the Kindle Tablet, however, that is all going to change. Like Apple's iPad and the App Store, Amazon's Appstore for Android is curated, in the sense that there is some element of vendor selection and quality control.

And naturally, Amazon is only going to allow apps to install on their tablet that have genuine compatibility with their device. Which means that it is highly unlikely that they will permit any kind of side-loading, which includes Google's own Android Market.

So while the Android OS that runs on this beast is definitely a unique "Fork" or a derivative of some sort (I originally expected that this was probably based on 2.3.x Gingerbread, but according to recent reports it could very well be some heavily mutated version of Froyo 2.2 or even Eclair 2.1) developers will have a single targeted device profile with the Kindle Tablet, much like iOS developers do with the iPad.

[UPDATE: It has been confirmed to me by Amazon's Vice President of the Kindle group that the software is in fact, Android 2.3 "Gingerbread", the latest version]

For software developers, this would be a very welcome change to dealing with the highly fractionalized Android ecosystem which exists today, which has many different versions running in the wild.

And if this initial Kindle Tablet takes off, it's entirely possible we'll also see a 10" version or even Amazon smartphones. An alternative universe, indeed.

If the sub-$250 tablet sells in the millions -- which given Amazon's track record with its e-reader devices, is not at all out of the question -- then this "Alternative Universe" definitely merits large amounts of developer attention.

Because of the company's tremendous online retail reach, it could very well mean that Amazon -- not Google's OEM partners like Motorola and Samsung -- could emerge as the #1 volume manufacturer of Android tablets.

On Wednesday, we'll know all the details about this device. The long-standing questions will be answered. However, the battle for Android tablet developer and consumer hearts and minds will only have just begun.

Will the Kindle Tablet start a war between Amazon and Google over who gets the most developer and consumer attention for Android? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Amazon, Android, Google, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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36 comments
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  • RE: The Android Alternative: Amazon's Kindle Tablet

    Pssht.

    Picard > Kirk

    Anyways, the price is probably right. I'll probably pick one up. Depends on how much Android they stripped out though, as there are a number of features that I couldn't live without.
    Aerowind
    • RE: The Android Alternative: Amazon's Kindle Tablet

      @Aerowind
      Just thinking that since Amazon is a curated store then why buy a device that is more limited than the iPad2. iPad2 still has the kindle app as well as iBooks, Kobo, etc. In addition is has by far the best and widest selection of Apps. Even though it is cheaper, it is only $250 bucks cheaper and it is only 7".
      global.philosopher
      • "Only" $250? Plus you get Prime thrown in

        @global.philosopher - you're from a different economic reality than me, and probably most of the people who haven't yet bought a tablet.

        Throwing in Prime is brilliant, and completely on message ... and reduces the price, for those who were going to buy Prime anyway, to $170.
        daboochmeister
      • RE: The Android Alternative: Amazon's Kindle Tablet

        @global.philosopher You are looking at it from a nerds perspective and that is all right (I do that too). You are underestimating how many people there are out there that do not know what an iPad or Android tablet can do.

        The color kindle is not going to marketed to compete with the iPad. It is more like the Nook Color which I owned and loved until I bought a nerdier tablet.

        I am a modern man so I try to stay away from generalities but this device will be very popular with women, just like Nook Color. I see a lot of women on the train reading magazines on their Nook Colors. It is also popular with parents because of Children's books. There are already a ton of people out there that have bought into the kindle ecosystem and own lots of kindle books so this is the next step for them.

        Your argument about size doesn't hold water. People will buy the kindle tablet specifically because it is the right size and weight (assuming) for an ereader. iPad and most Android tablets are too big and heavy to be used primarily as an ereader for a lot of people.

        If Amazon could somehow get the price down to $199 in time for Christmas, they will sell millions.
        redhaven
  • RE: The Android Alternative: Amazon's Kindle Tablet

    People whoever bought Touchpad for $99, will pass that. Because of Kindle App, 50GB of Box.net cloud storage and bigger screen will eliminate the folks that have already vested into HP Touchpad. Of course, people who have bought iPad will not look back. People who already vested into other Android tablets like Xoom, Samsung, Asus, Acer, Toshiba and Sony will not buy that. That leaves Amazon to compete with low end tablet makers for the people who haven't decided one at. Of course people who want to buy a Kindle, would think about getting into Amazon. I know Amazon has better ecosystem, at the same time Apple and Sony also have better ecosystem. Apple is the king in the content. Sony, with its Sony Entertainment Network, PlayStation Network and Sony Reader is also in commanding section except for its price. I don't say Amazon Kindroid would be a toast, but I don't think it will be box office hit either.
    Ram U
    • RE: The Android Alternative: Amazon's Kindle Tablet

      @Rama.NET There are a huge amount of people that do not yet own a tablet of any kind. You're talking at least 90 percent of the population of the US, UK, Europe and Asia.
      jperlow
      • RE: The Android Alternative: Amazon's Kindle Tablet

        @jperlow
        Well, I agree, and I use Amazon AppStore as primary store on my Sprint GalaxyTab and I like it over Android Market. Having said that I think how many people would shelve out $250 on a tablet, if they haven't already in these economies. But definitely people whoever was thinking of getting Asus Transformer, Acer Iconia or Kindle would definitely give a chance to Kindroid. Having a better ecosystem than rest of the Android Tablet makers including Google gives Amazon definitely an upper hand and I think they could sell good number of tablets or convert potential Kindle buyers into Amazon Tablet Owners. But having said that it may not be a runaway success like iPad, but at the same time I feel like they could actualy.
        Ram U
      • RE: The Android Alternative: Amazon's Kindle Tablet

        @jperlow
        I don't see Android fanboys buying one as Amazon's store is a curated store just like Apples.
        global.philosopher
      • RE: The Android Alternative: Amazon's Kindle Tablet

        @Rama.NET <br><br>There is no alternative tablet market. I mean the numbers are so low that it's not even worth mentioning against the market leading iPad. We've just learnt that Samsung sold a measly 20,000 Galaxy Tab out of 1m shipped in 2010. And Samsung is one of the most aggressive suppliers in phones and tablets. So we could safely say that there's not a whole lot of people with Acers, Xooms and Asus Transformers......for Amazon to worry about. We could even say that many of those same <i>I will never ever touch an Apple</i> consumers were waiting for a low cost alternative. <br><br>I agree that it won't affect the iPad itself. That's a whole different beast and more a premium market segment.
        dave95.
    • RE: The Android Alternative: Amazon's Kindle Tablet

      @Rama.NET Amazon's key market is the hundreds of millions of their customers who have yet to buy a tablet; most, indeed, have never even considered a tablet. They will now.
      Heenan73
      • RE: The Android Alternative: Amazon's Kindle Tablet

        @Heenan73 ... i agree. I like purchasing from Amazon and see this effort as a way to corral Amazon sales via a handy little device. But, the Internet browsing is also very attractive, since it will be used for looking up phone numbers, maps, directions, medical information, and almost everything else. The desktop is disappearing. It's really good to see the prices drop so low, this is a throwaway device. Keep it for a couple of years and discard it if it breaks or is damaged.<br><br>Also, having used Linux for 9 years with no AV and no issues, it will provide the security necessary for online banking, retirement accounts, and stock transactions. Linux does not get infected with Microsoft botnets such as TDL-4, Stuxnet or Conflcker. So, you don't have to worry about your tablet becoming a proxy for anonymous surfers or infected with keyloggers.<br><br>It's interesting to see these devices indirectly allowing Linux to replace Microsoft by their convenience and portability. The desktop has been losing ground, evidenced by the number of people using netbooks and notebooks with a wireless broadband router. The computer desks and desktop boxes have disappeared in favor of a notebook being used on a kitchen table via a wireless connection.<br><br>To a greater extent, Apple and Android smartphones with 3G or 4G connectivity have become the De Facto standard for portable Internet connectivity, providing Unix Derivative level security and reliability to the the masses.

        This recent paradigm shift in computing has underscored Microsofts' inability to provide meaningful levels of security, notably without the use of AV.
        Joe.Smetona
  • I like the Amazon app store too

    It's nice to have an alternative to the Market. It will be interesting to see how long it takes to root it. I'm sure CyanogenMod will eventually support it.
    Mac Hosehead
    • RE: The Android Alternative: Amazon's Kindle Tablet

      @Mac Hosehead : I'm in the other camp - seriously doubt it will be even worth trying to root.
      Willnott
    • Good thing...

      @Mac Hosehead ... Good thing Microsoft has all their security issues addressed. It amazing how many Android and Apple owners are throwing out their smartphones and tablets to buy Microsoft. I hear Microsoft smartphone sales have skyrocketed.<br><br>Seriously, who do you know with Android or Apple that has any issues or problems? I've never met any. They just use the devices as they were intended. How hard is that? My Linux Mint repository has over 33,000 free software items available for instal through the Software Manager. Some other items are installed from trusted sources like Google.com, Filezilla.com, Truecrypt.com, Opera.com, etc.<br><br>I've been using Linux for 9 years and I've never used AV and have never been infected with viruses, botnets, keyloggers or any type of spyware. My family has been using Linux for 9 years and they aren't geeks, just ordinary home users with no security training. Linux (or Android) just doesn't have the affinity to randomly install external data without any user knowledge or intervention, a hallmark Microsoft characteristic.
      Joe.Smetona
  • i am sure...

    .. what will happen:
    no one will talk about it in a few weeks. as with any other "ipad killer".
    bannedfromzdnetagainandagain
    • RE: The Android Alternative: Amazon's Kindle Tablet

      @bannedfromzdnetagainandagain
      Amazon doesn't have to sell the device profits. They just could give away the device at the cost of Kindle and still be profitable. Their bread and butter is not in Android Tablet, it is in the content.
      Ram U
    • Its not one, its a collective

      @bannedfromzdnetagainandagain Just like there is no one true IPhone killer, its a collective. The bundle of Android phones kill the IPhone. So will the bundle of pads. The media like to pick a winner, but that's not how tech works in this case.
      A Gray
      • RE: The Android Alternative: Amazon's Kindle Tablet

        @A Gray There is no "Kill." Amazon just wants to make money. Period.
        jperlow
      • RE: The Android Alternative: Amazon's Kindle Tablet

        @A Gray You are correct that there is no one iPhone killer but you are absolutely that the bundle of Android phones kill the iPhone. Android phones combine do have the majority of the market but they certainly don't kill the iPhone. iPhone sales continue to go up and I know they haters don't accept it but Apple makes the lions share of the profit of the entire market which counts more than market share. If Apple's ultimate goal was market share they would just cut profits to get a lower retail price and take more of the market but obviously that isn't their goal.
        non-biased
  • RE: The Android Alternative: Amazon's Kindle Tablet

    Still wondering if Amazon will sell a Fire with Special Offers and lower the price.
    mstrsfty