Amazon has invited journalists to a press conference in New York on Wednesday, September 28, which is leading many people to jump to the most obvious conclusion: it is about to launch its long-awaited tablet version of the Kindle ebook reader. Although this is unlikely to be a direct competitor for Apple's popular iPad tablet, it could be the first non-Apple tablet to sell in volume.
Judging by the Kindle's success -- it was sold out for almost six months after its launch in November 2007 -- shipments in the run- up to Christmas should be at least a million a month. Obviously this will depend on the price, which also remains unknown. However, it is expected to be competitive with Barnes & Noble's $249 colour tablet, Nook Color. This is about half the price of an iPad.
In a previous report, Amazon's first tablet could appear next month, I noted that Taiwan's DigiTimes said its sources at component suppliers said they expected Amazon to start shipping its 7-inch tablet, which is being manufactured by Quanta Computer, in October. Mass production of the 10.1-inch version will start in the first quarter of 2012.
And as I pointed out in June, Amazon tablet could add to market explosion: "Amazon would have some advantages entering the highly competitive tablet market. It already has the marketing and direct supply capabilities, along with hundreds of millions of established customers. It has access to vast amounts of content, including digital music, TV shows and movies, Android apps, a cloud player and a cloud drive. It can match or beat Apple on customer service and price. It has a Kindle user base to upgrade."
Amazon's profits from its Kindle ebook sales, Instant Video Store, MP3 Music Store, App Store for Android, and Cloud Player for Android (assuming the tablets are Android-compatible) would enable it to sell hardware at a small profit, or even at a loss. This is the most common approach in video games console market, where new titles are relatively expensive. However, it is the reverse of Apple's approach, where it sells content mainly in order to sell high-priced devices.
According to an unconfirmed report in Techcrunch by MG Siegler (Amazon's Kindle Tablet Is Very Real. I've Seen It, Played With It), the first 7-inch Kindle tablet looks much like the BlackBerry PlayBook. This is lighter and much easier to hold for long periods of reading than the iPad.
It also runs a forked, Amazon-specific version of Google's Android operating system, with a new user interface. Siegler says:
"The interface is all Amazon and Kindle. It's black, dark blue, and a bunch of orange. The main screen is a carousel that looks like Cover Flow in iTunes which displays all the content you have on the device. This includes books, apps, movies, etc. Below the main carousel is a dock to pin your favorite items in one easy-to-access place. When you turn the device horizontally, the dock disappears below the fold. Above the dock is the status bar (time, battery, etc) and this doubles as a notification tray. When apps have updates, or when new subscriptions are ready for you to view, they appear here. The top bar shows 'YOUR NAME's Kindle' and then the number of notifications you have in bright orange. It looks quite nice."
The new tablet Kindle will not replace the existing models, which are lighter and cheaper, and which have monochrome E Ink screens that are easy to read out of doors. Although E Ink has shown a colour screen version (as has Qualcomm with its Mirasol technology) these have yet to challenge black and white e-reader screens. E Ink offers better battery life but the colours are not as rich as good quality tablet screens such as the RIM PlayBook's.
CES 2011: Color E-ink display vs Mirasol Display