Having essentially written the book (ahem) on e-reader success, Amazon now sails into the choppier waters of the 'post PC' tablet market. So... who should be worried, and why?
It's been widely theorised (and virtually confirmed) that Amazon's New York-based press conference on Wednesday morning US time will host the unveiling of the long-rumoured Amazon Android tablet -- or at least the first model of a possible pair -- so the real question now isn't so much what Jeff Bezos will reveal onstage this week but rather how Amazon's entry into the tablet landscape will affect the market as a whole.
The "Kindle Fire" as it is believed to be dubbed
is said to be a 7-inch capacitive-touchscreen tablet that resembles
RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook
and which runs a customised, heavily Amazon-ified Android OS. It's expected to be available for sale (in the US at least) in November, and a 10-inch version (comparable to iPad size) is also understood to be in the offing, but perhaps within more of an early 2012 timeframe.
Amazon's Kindle (pictured) is set to receive an evolutionary overhaul this week with the new 'Kindle Fire'.
In other words, compared to what has come before it, the Kindle Fire is a Kindle in name and shape only. While it's sure to feature e-reader software and capabilities (like any tablet PC these days), the Fire is essentially a wholly new Amazon product and represents a significant evolutionary upgrade for the brand -- much like the progression from a monochromatic first-gen iPod to the current-model iPod touch, but in one clean step.
Amazon's ability (on past form) to sell products at a loss and aggressively undercut competitors could potentially lead it to selling the device for significantly less than the token $579 entry-level RRP pricepoint established by the iPad (and widely aped by Android tablet makers until the inevitable steep discounting).
From one perspective, the obvious threat is to Apple and its market dominance with the iPad 2. More so perhaps than any other would-be iPad-killer, Amazon's broad positioning, holdings and expertise establish it as the horse to back. Unlike the horde of Android tablet manufacturers who are essentially hardware makers first and foremost (Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, Acer, Motorola and ASUS for example), Amazon already has its own Android Appstore
, a strong history of selling products and content online, relationships with publishers
, experience with a vastly successful e-reader tablet line and a firmly established Kindle brand as a result. So -- no doubt -- Apple will be watching Amazon's movements very closely.
But, on the other hand, what about those aforementioned Android-toting competitors? In reality, it's far likelier that they're more worried by the Kindle Fire developments than Apple is. Why? Because of the hugely slanted market share that Apple already enjoys over its Android-supporting tablet counterparts. While Android tablet devices receive a lot of media attention (and quite rightly, because there's been a lot of high-profile device launches this year from the companies listed above), in truth sales figures show they're still battling for oxygen in a marketplace the iPad effectively owns. Recent estimates
put the Android contingent at about 17% of global tablet sales this year, while Apple enjoys nearly three quarters of the market to itself. If you're already sharing such a thin slither of pie, the last thing you want is the introduction of a new Amazon Kindle to the food chain.
Of course, here in Australia, many of these questions are for now largely academic. Going off past Kindle availability, there's a fair likelihood local users will be left out of the loop, at least in the short term. We should know more later in the week.