Amazon's Kindle Fire -- a 7-inch colour tablet running Amazon's version of Android -- is still missing from the UK line-up, although the company is now taking pre-orders for a British English version of the Kindle Touch e-reader, five months after its US launch. Why not? The obvious but unconfirmed suspicion is that it's about to be replaced. Rumours suggest that a new version of the Fire is about to go into production, and today, Taiwan's Digitimes reported "Shipments of a 10.1-inch model are expected to begin in July."
Digitimes does not have the best record for such predictions, and it is quoting unnamed sources. However, there have been similar "tips" about Amazon introducing a 10-inch tablet as long ago as May 2011.
Of course, as I reported at the time, Amazon only launched a 7-inch tablet at the end of that September. However, Amazon also launched the Kindle with one model, and then expanded the range with models at different prices.
On that basis, we could reasonably expect an improved version of the original $199 Kindle Fire, plus cheaper and more expensive versions. The 10.1-inch version, codenamed Hollywood, would be the more expensive model, and perhaps Amazon will be able to hit the $299 price point. Digitimes's story, Amazon to launch 2-4 new tablet PCs in 2012, say sources, also suggests a cheaper model:
"In addition to a 7-inch model that will be priced at about US$199 with shipments to start at the end of the second quarter, Amazon is also soliciting quotes for another 7-inch model to be priced at US$169 for the entry-level segment, indicated the sources, but adding that makers in the supply chain are reluctant to offer quotes for low-margin hardware products."
It's probably not a coincidence that $169 is the current starting price of the Nook Color from Amazon's biggest rival, Barnes & Noble.
If the $199 model is improved, the $169 version could be pretty much the same as today's Kindle Fire. The question is whether Amazon can get it made more cheaply.
It's certainly not worth hanging around for a $169 version: Chinese factories must see thousands of visiting Americans asking for quotes for manufacturing. Most of them are not going to result in assembly lines being set up and products getting shipped. However, lots of companies already sell tablets with (roughly) 10-inch screens, including Apple and Samsung, but not yet including Barnes & Noble. How much incentive would Amazon need?