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Details of Rumored Amazon Tablet Surface On the Web

Amazon.com Logo - H 2011

Design, online offerings could make Kindle Tablet first serious challenge to iPad.

The first concrete details of Amazon's long-rumored iPad-challenging tablet have surfaced on the Techcrunch blog, where writer MG Siegler claims to have actually played with a functioning model.  If Siegler's report proves accurate, Amazon's tablet—just called a Kindle for now—could prove to be the most serious challenger yet to Apple’s iPad/iTunes ecosystem.

Siegler described the device as looking very much like a Blackberry Playbook with an all-black exterior, a rubberized back,  a 7-inch screen capacitive touch screen, and a custom version of Android  for the operating system.  The tablet Siegler saw was a DVT (design verification test) unit, usually the last stage in the process before mass production begins.  The basic specs do not seem much different than the dozens of other tablets that have come to market over the last year that have met with a tepid response from consumers.  Apple has sold more than 25 million iPads since its introduction in March 2010.

But two things set the Kindle Tablet apart from other iPad challengers: The user interface and the integration with Amazon’s online store.  On top of the standard Android operating system, Amazon built a custom user interface.  The main screen employs a carousel metaphor similar to iTunes’ coverflow to navigate between media—movies, music, books.  Unlike the iPad, users can place a favorite movie, TV show or, book on the home screen for direct access.  Siegler called the user interface “very responsive,” for an early version.

Amazon is tightly integrating its content store and applications--the music player is Amazon’s Cloud Player; the movie player is Amazon’s Instant Video player; the app store is Amazon’s Android Appstore--with the tablet, making purchases a one-click experience just like iTunes.  Unlike, Apple, Amazon seems to be positioning the Kindle Tablet as a cloud device with limited on-board storage (6 GB, less than half the smallest iPad, on the test model) with most purchases residing in the cloud until needed.  The Kindle Tablet will challenge Netflix.  According to Siegler, Amazon is including a free subscription to the company's Amazon Prime Service with the purchase of a tablet.  The service, which Amazon currently sells for $79 a year, gives users access to its growing library of free streaming movies and TV shows with its Instant Video service, plus Prime comes with free unlimited two-day shipping. Amazon is pricing the device at a very competitive $250 and aiming for a late November release so its available for the holiday season. 

At that price and with the preliminary features described, the Kindle Tablet could emerge as the first serious challenge to the iPad.  Only Amazon can mimic Apple’s tight integration of a digital store and a device and only Amazon has a comparably large database of credit cards on file from existing customers to ease the transition to a new device.  In addition, Amazon’s ability to integrate free streaming into the device makes it a threat to Netflix, which has been pushing customers towards its streaming service with its new pricing structure.  Certainly, many Hollywood content producers, long wary of the near monopoly position of Apple’s ecosystem, will be rooting for the Kindle Tablet to succeed.  Christmas 2011 could be the first real battle in the tablet wars.