Let's just get one thing out of the way--Amazon's mysterious and still officially unannounced tablet is NOT an iPad killer. The iPad can look forward to living a long and prosperous life, at least in tech terms. But today, the first report came down of someone actually seeing and using the Amazon tablet, which is actually the next Kindle, according to TechCrunch's MG Seigler, who was not allowed to photograph the device.
As ZDNet's Larry Dignan points out, the new Kindle (or Kindles--CNET also reported as early as May that Amazon was working on both 7- and 10-inch tablets) is Amazon's worst-kept secret, which is why we think we know so much about it.
And now that at least one human appears to have handled one of the devices, I'm suddenly feeling confident enough to make a declaration that may seem foolish given the HP TouchPad's recent demise and strange life after death. Here it is anyway in case you missed the headline: This new Amazon Kindle/tablet thing, if the majority of what we've heard about it is true, will be the first Android tablet to actually sell.
Forrester has already said that Amazon could sell 5 million tablets next quarter, and I think that's more than just blowing smoke. Here're five reasons why:
Value: Rumors about the price of an Amazon tablet have been consistently heading downward since the beginning of the summer. Much of this could be wishful thinking following the TouchPad fire sale, but Amazon is nothing if not shrewd about pricing and also has no fear of launching a loss leader. The $249 price point sounds about right, if not even a bit lower. Throwing in Amazon Prime for free also makes perfect sense to get customers streaming and shopping from their new device right away. Such a total package would blow all other Android offerings out of the water and give some Apple fans pause as well.
Whispernet: This hasn't been widely reported because it isn't widely understood, but the new Amazon tablet will come with a free 3G data plan built in. Whispernet is Amazon's wireless network that up until now has been used only by 3G Kindles to keep track of your reading progress and highlighting on your eBooks via Whispersync. Whispersync would become much more dynamic on an Amazon tablet, providing on-demand data without any additional plan. Take your Amazon tablet out of the box, charge it up, turn it on, and if you're in range of a 3G signal, you're automatically online and ready to start streaming from Prime or Cloud Drive, or (Amazon hopes) to start shopping.
Amazon doesn't have to replace Apple: For every time someone put out the extra money to buy an iMac or a Macbook, there were always a handful of other consumers just as happy to spend half as much on the latest from HP, Lenovo, Acer, or a number of others. The smartphone market is beginning to look the same with the iPhone and its competitors, and the same will eventually happen with the iPad and tablets. More economically minded consumers are just waiting for a tab that offers enough value, and Amazon has the resources to deliver.
The power of e-ink: While the Techcrunch report says the tablet Siegler handled was backlit-only, there are reports that the other of the possible two models will be dual-mode, operating as a backlit color tablet with the option to switch to the easy-on-the-eye e-Ink mode familiar to Kindle users. This is another key differentiating factor that could push Amazon forward.
Brand: It takes more than low price to create value, which is why the cheapo no-name Android tabs haven't taken off. But the Amazon and Kindle brands have the power to recruit new tablet users, just as the Amazon brand did with the original Kindle.
Whatever Amazon comes out with, it's not likely to be as pretty as an iPad--word is it actually looks like RIM's PlayBook--but it's almost guaranteed to be cheaper, and will probably leave many new TouchPad owners feeling a little buyer's remorse.