If you’ve even dipped a toe into the tech blogosphere of late, you’ve heard the rumors about an impending Amazon Kindle tablet–or even a pair of them. The blog Boy Genius Report, which has a decent track record as a source for accurate leaks, recently reported that Amazon would be putting out not one but two tablets by the end of this year, code named “Coyote” (a lower-end model) and “Hollywood” (a more deluxe version). Many an observer has heaped speculation upon speculation, since. But what I want to focus on here is one question: what kind of influence does the legacy of the Kindle—that plain-old e-reading device—have on its heir apparent, the Kindle tablet?
Consider, first, the iPad—the reigning tablet king that Jeff Bezos’s devices will be going after. There was a certain logical progression from the iPhone to the iPad. An iPhone does everything; it’s essentially a little computer. You navigate the streets of your city with it, you send emails on it, you watch YouTube on it, you listen to music with it, you use it surf the Web; it is as much a portal to the world as your laptop or desktop device. Its only problem? It has a small screen. When the iPad debuted, it was the manifestation of the preexisting desires of the iPhone owner: an all-capable, Internet accessible device with, at last, a screen to match its power.
The progression from Kindle to Kindle tablet, however, is less direct. The Kindle isn’t a computer, in the way that an iPhone is; it’s merely a reader. It’s an excellent, wildly successful reader, but those who use the device are not necessarily looking to graduate to a tablet. Indeed, the first reaction from many was to worry if a Kindle tablet might somehow spell the end of the plain-old Kindle. Jeff Bezos told Consumer Reports recently, by way of reassurance, that “we will always be very mindful that we will want a dedicated reading device.”
The lesson of the iPad and the Kindle tablet is this: that product history matters. The iPod was the gateway gadget for the iPhone, which in turn lit the way to the iPad. But the Kindle has become synonymous with a quiet, contemplative experience. The Kindle tablets, by contrast, will be multimedia extravaganzas much like the iPad; they’re rumored to use cutting edge Fringe Field Switching technology on its screen, the better to dazzle you with.
Many hope that the force of the Kindle brand—now a household name—will be enough to make the Amazon tablet the iPad’s first serious challenger. But it may be that very brand image that hinders its adoption, at least among those who have welcomed the original Kindle as the one gadget out there that offers a solace from the endless razzle-dazzle of the multimedia-rich Web.