Amazon Android-based tablet rumoured for fall release

All indicators point to Amazon readying a tablet for this year. And according to a report by the Wall Street Journal today, the online retail giant will introduce its first color offering “before October,” according to unnamed sources.

The timing makes sense: A September or even early October introduction would be well-timed to position Amazon going into the holiday shopping season, and to build anticipation for a tablet that could be the most asked-for stocking stuffer of 2011. It also coincides with when arch-rival Apple plans to launch its iOS 5.0 mobile operating system, and, potentially, a new, higher-resolution iPad to complement its current blockbuster, the iPad 2.

Amazon and Apple aren’t the only ones planning fall tablet launches. Sony’s first Android tablets are due in the fall as well.

As expected, Amazon isn’t saying anything-the company never confirms or denies the ever-churning rumor mill. However, the company’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, has indicated in the past that a tablet is its next frontier. And that makes perfect sense, on numerous levels.

Related Story: Amazon Kindle sales defy iPad by rising each month in Q2

For one, Amazon and Apple are two behemoths each vying for consumers’ digital media purchase dollars. Books, music, video: Both companies are all about content consumption, and both are well-positioned in the fight for your wallet.

Amazon established itself as a contender in the hardware space when it launched, and cultivated over the past four years, its Kindle series of e-readers. While Apple grew its ownership of the digital music market, Amazon forged a place amongst e-book consumers, and the Kindle was critical to that strategy.

Fast forward to the post-iPad Era. Apple’s first-generation iPad made it clear that mobile technology was powerful enough for a media tablet, and that consumers were ready to adopt a tablet, in droves. Pair that development with the wild upswing in Google Android’s popularity, and the release of Google’s Android Honeycomb platform, and the door suddenly opened wide for Amazon to develop a viable competitor to Apple’s iPad.

The details of the Amazon tablet remain vague. Rumors put the screen at “roughly nine inches”, per the Wall Street Journal’s report. The tablet will run Android, presumably Android 3.2 (or later, if another version comes available). The Journal also says its sources claim there won’t be a camera.

Frankly, if those specs pan out, they will make an Amazon tablet something of an odd duck. The vast majority of Android tablets-including notables like Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Toshiba Thrive-use a 10.1-inch screen. Apple’s iPad 2 and HP’s TouchPad each use a 9.7-inch display. Only LG and Samsung have announced 8.9-inch units. Samsung still hasn’t disclosed U.S. availability for its Galaxy Tab 8.9, while LG’s has shipped Stateside in the form of the T-Mobile G-Slate. In use, the 8.9-inch size is a tweener that’s too large to hold for long periods in one hand, but not quite large enough to impress. More trouble: Some developers have said outright that, until Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich unifies the company’s fragmented mobile operating systems, they won’t support anything but 10.1-inch displays for Android 3.x.

The lack of a camera would also be a competitive oversight. I’d understand omitting the camera if Amazon was positioning its tablet primarily as a reading and media consumption device, much like Barnes & Noble has done with its Nook Color (which runs on a variant of Android 2.3, but only has access to B&N’s own app store). But based on steps the company has taken this year, that’s an unlikely direction.

Why Amazon Will Succeed With a Tablet

Earlier this year, Amazon (somewhat quietly) introduced its Appstore for Android. By adding Android apps to its existing online retail empire of digital books, music, movies, and television, Amazon set the stage for the introduction of its own tablet hardware.

Hardware and store integration are not new concepts for Amazon. The company led the e-reader market for so long because, in large part, of its tight integration with Tight integration between tablet (and phone and media player) and the iTunes Store is what propelled Apple to its sales summits. Amazon certainly must be hoping it can build on the success of its Kindle devices by creating its own, tightly integrated shopping, buying, and consuming experience on an Android tablet.

Presumably, this will be an experience that’s more organic than the one you get by shopping at Amazon today on an Android tablet, using the various Amazon apps. And it will presumably leverage the breadth of selection and attention to customer experience and other details that a retail Goliath like Amazon can provide.

Other tablet makers are trying to integrate their own branded digital stores too, Acer and Toshiba among them. And meanwhile, Google is chasing both Apple and Amazon with its own Android Market services, which for now include selling apps and books, and renting movies.

It’s obvious that Amazon knows how to sell (the company logged $9.86 billion in sales in the first quarter of the year). All the company needs is a competitive platform to integrate its shopping and playback experiences. That will be the raison d’etre for any forthcoming tablet.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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