Amazon's October Tablet Surprise: 5 Questions

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Amazon's October Tablet Surprise: 5 Questions
Rumors of an Android-based tablet from Amazon have picked up steam after a report claimed the bookseller plans to release an iPad competitor by October. Amazon's new device will purportedly feature a roughly 9-inch screen, an unspecified version of Android and no camera. The design for the company's first tablet will be outsourced to an Asian manufacturer that could be followed by an Amazon-designed tablet in 2012, according to The Wall Street Journal.

This latest rumor falls in line with previous Amazon tablet whisperings. In May, Amazon purportedly had two tablets planned before the end of 2011, including one with a quad-core processor. That same month Consumer Reports asked Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos if his company planned to release a tablet to which Bezos said, "stay tuned." More recently, a report surfaced claiming Amazon planned to ship one million tablets in the third quarter of 2011.

It's been pretty clear for some time that Amazon wants to get in the tablet game, and most critics believe the online retailer is well suited to challenge Apple's iPad. Amazon is the only Apple rival that can match the iTunes store with a large online MP3 music outlet, an online music player, TV and movie rentals and purchases, e-books and the newly launched Appstore for Android. With just over three months to go until a potential Amazon tablet enters the market, here's what I'm wondering about Amazon's plans.

Why two tablets?

Amazon's October Tablet Surprise: 5 Questions
It sounds like Amazon has a twofold tablet plan: get into the market early with a tablet, any tablet, and then come out with a more solid device later. The problem is a number of companies have already tried that plan such as Research In Motion with its BlackBerry PlayBook, Samsung with the Galaxy Tab, and Dell with the Streak. None of those tablet makers have fared well with the "just get it out the door" strategy. Would Amazon do any better?

How much will it cost?

The cheapest Wi-Fi only iPad is $499. If you can't beat or match that price, there's little point in even trying to produce an iPad challenger. Amazon's original Kindle cost $399 in 2007, a price comparable to the original 8GB iPhone (after its initial price cut). It then took Apple one year to get the iPhone down to $199, and the Kindle only reached a more palatable $139 in 2010. Amazon will have to do better on pricing with its tablet than it has on the Kindle.

Nine or 9.7?

The Journal says the Amazon tablet will be "roughly" 9 inches. That makes me wonder whether Amazon isn't shooting for 9.7 inches, the same size display as the iPad. However, a number of Android tablets are opting for 10.1-inch displays such as the Motorola Xoom and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Perhaps Amazon will opt for a larger size instead?

Which Android flavor?

Amazon's October Tablet Surprise: 5 Questions
Android is a pseudo-open source platform in the sense that Google keeps each new version under wraps and then publicly releases the source code at a later date. For the tablet-specific Android 3.0 Honeycomb, Google has decided not to release the source code. Instead, the company will release code for the next version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, when it launches later this year. Will Amazon be an Ice Cream Sandwich partner at launch or are they cozying up to Google to get their hands on Honeycomb right now? If the answer to both of these questions is "no," then Amazon would be stuck using a non-tablet version of Android such as Froyo or Gingerbread.

No camera?

It's debatable whether a 9- or 10-inch tablet needs a rear-facing camera to grab snapshots, but a front-facing camera for video chat is pretty standard these days. Numerous tablets have a front-facing camera, including the iPad 2, PlayBook, Streak 7 and the Galaxy Tab. If Amazon's tablet doesn't at least include a video chat option, can it stand up to the flexibility of non-Apple tablets, let alone the iPad?

Amazon may be the best hope for a viable iPad competitor, but Amazon's rumored 2012 tablet may be the one to wait for if current rumors are correct.

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