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Amazon’s Expanded Tablet Push

Is a 10-inch tablet about to be announced?
July 24, 2012

Someone apparently didn’t tell Demos Parneros, the president of U.S. Retail for Staples, to keep mum about Amazon’s tablet plans. Parneros reportedly told Reuters that Amazon has five or six new tablet SKUs, or stock-keeping units, up its sleeve, including a 10-inch model. Amazon declined to comment to Reuters, rendering Parneros their effective spokesperson for the time being, an unusual arrangement, to be sure.

Six SKUs doesn’t mean six wildly different tablets. Mild differences–such as a larger hard drive, or 3G/4G versus WiFi access–would be enough to denote a unique SKU. But if Parneros is right, we could be seeing a new wave of devices for Amazon, including one–that 10-inch model–designed to compete more directly with Apple’s iPad.

One of the most intriguing things about the Reuters report is its use of Amazon’s hiring efforts to try to infer the organization’s plans (since Parneros, alas, was only so forthcoming). For instance, Reuters builds a strong case that Amazon is working on a smartphone based on recent job postings for Amazon’s Lab126 research and design center in Silicon Valley. For instance, the lab’s “Field Quality Engineer” will need to coordinate with carriers–and it’d be nice if such a person had “prior wireless or related field test experience that covers smart phones or smart devices a plus.” The smoking gun on that Kindle phone?

The Kindle Fire was long touted as a competitor for the iPad, but truth be told, it never really was. It was smaller, less capacious, less ambitious–it didn’t even have a built-in camera. A 10-inch specimen, if it has a suite of other iPad-like specs, could finally have a run at the top-end tablet market.

What I’m most interested to see is the price. At $199, the Kindle Fire’s debut pricing–on which it was rumored to take a loss–was a game-changer. How much will its 10-inch model run? If it still undercuts the lowest-end iPad by hundreds of dollars, that could be a significant value proposition for consumers.

For the time being, though, we’re running mostly on rumors. In confirmed Amazonian news, however, the company announced its plans for a digital media hub based in London. Developers and designers will come together to “focus on the creation of interactive digital services for TVs, game consoles, smartphones and PC,” among other things, said Amazon in a release. That’s a smart move: fundamentally, Amazon’s mobile play is about capturing a larger market share for its universe of digital content. (After all, when was the last time you bought a CD off of Amazon.com? A DVD? Or, increasingly, a book?) Amazon has already made progress on that front; since the Kindle Fire came out last September, Amazon’s share of the video market rose from 10% to 13%, while its share of music downloads grew from a little over 13% to a little over 14% per the NPD Group. That’s a trend that Amazon’s investors would love to see continue, and accelerate.

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