By Phil White
Leading blog TechCrunch recently confirmed news that will delight our resident gadget reviewer, Megan Cullor, strike fear in the hearts of Barnes & Noble’s Nook team and potentially scare the pants off a few people in Cupertino: An Amazon tablet is on the way.
Rumors of this fabled device have been circulating the blogosphere for more than two years. But now TechCrunch’s MG Siegler has actually seen a working prototype, which he states will be a 7-inch, capacitive touchscreen device.
So why would someone buy it, when bibliophiles can just get a regular Kindle, and owners of existing tablets can just download the Kindle and Amazon Cloud Player apps? Apparently Amazon is hoping that making this device the first tablet to offer both of these alongside its Instant Video service will tip the scales. The company is currently testing a new version of its website (not yet released) that is supposedly tablet-friendly, with more emphasis on mobile products such as e-books, MP3s and streaming video content and less on electronics and other physical goods.
And how will the Amazon tablet compete against the all-conquering iPad 2, when so many have failed (step forward, Motorola Xoom and, to the front of the line, Blackberry PlayBook)? To quote the Bill Clinton campaign from 1992, “It’s the economy, stupid!” While the iPad 2 starts at $499, the Kindle tablet will supposedly set you back just 250 bucks. And rather than trying to be either a productivity machine or targeting app-lovers, Amazon’s focusing on the three entertainment mediums it knows people want on the go – video, books and music, all delivered from the cloud.
Timing will also be key. According to Siegler, Amazon will release its first tablet in time for Christmas, and could potentially offer a free year of its Amazon Prime service, which includes Amazon Instant Video and free, two-day shipping for early adopters. Pretty tempting for dedicated visitors to Amazon’s one-stop-shop, and those wanting video on the go. In a further development, a report has surfaced claiming that Amazon is in negotiations with publishers to offer a Netflix-like e-book subscription plan, whereby users could access an e-book library without buying individual titles, as part of the Amazon Prime service at first. So hook ‘em for a free year, then charge the full $79 after that. Brilliant.
Another important factor will be Amazon’s power as a provider and pricer of content. Authors who self-publish through the company take home 70 percent of the profits – the best deal in the game for those who don’t have a literary agent to get them placement with a traditional publisher. Indeed, earlier this year John Locke became the first independent author to sell a million e-books through the Kindle store. To endear itself to authors, Amazon enables self-published and traditionally published writers to promote their titles, link to their blogs, track sales and more with the intuitive Author Central portal.
It’s not just independent authors who are on Amazon’s e-book radar. With the decline of the bricks-and-mortar stores (notably, Borders), publishers will also place greater emphasis on how they market books through Amazon and will continue to experiment with pricing models to drive sales of their digital wares. The new Kindle Tablet puts Amazon in an even stronger negotiating position in this back-and-forth that is redefining the book sales market.
And then there’s Amazon’s own publishing imprint to consider, which recently signed Timothy Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week, away from Crown. With more writers continuing to switch to Jeff Bezos’s outfit, Amazon is diversifying in a way that should put publishers and e-book providing rivals on high alert. By eliminating the middle man, Amazon can now sign, publish, promote and sell content – and the Amazon tablet will only increase the potential of this new, seamless, end-to-end model.
A lot of people thought the Kindle was doomed when the original iPad came out. But they were wrong – readers wanted a dedicated device with almost unbelievably long battery life and a no-glare screen that wouldn’t hurt their eyes. The Amazon tablet screen will not offer the latter two benefits, but the battery life should be stellar and it will offer the burgeoning Amazon Marketplace as part of a heavily skinned Amazon version of Google’s Android for those who like apps.
For those who don’t (i.e. current Kindle users and those bibliophiles who are yet to buy a tablet), the Amazon tablet will still offer a pretty focused user experience, with the advantage of a touch screen that the Kindle lacks. And, without the unnecessary camera that so many tablet makers seem intent on using to differentiate their products. Not a photographer among the designers, evidently.
In this writer’s opinion, the 7-inch format is a much better size option for reading than a 10-inch screen (and offers true, fit-in-your-pocket portability). Not a coincidence that a paperback book measures about the same as the Kindle Tablet supposedly will.
Prediction: The iPad 2 (and soon enough 3, 4, 5 etc) will continue to dominate tablet sales charts. But Amazon will own the #2 spot because of its legion of longtime fans, its e-book dominance and the fact that it will be the best mid-price tablet on the market by a country mile.
Check back after the Amazon tablet is released to see Megan’s full review (yes Megan, I know you will buy one the first day it’s out!).