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David Zax

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The Kindle Tablet Drum Roll

As anticipation builds for what could be the first real iPad competitor, a stream of news trickles out–including the first hands-on with the device. Only, it seems the Kindle tablet aims for a very different experience than the iPad.

  • September 7, 2011

It’s coming! It’s coming! Tablet watchers everywhere are waiting for the Amazon Kindle tablet with bated breath. And this past week brought real news on the device, whose launch is likely for November.

Most exciting is MG Siegler’s recent hands-on with the device, over at TechCrunch. He says he spent about an hour with a Design Verification Testing unit–an almost-finished version of the tablet floating around the company now. He was given time with the device, which he says roughly resembles the BlackBerry PlayBook at a first glance (also black, also with a rubbery back), on the condition that he not share any photos.

First, there are the specs that Siegler’s pretty certain of: the device will just be called “the Amazon Kindle,” redefining that brand. It will have a 7-inch capacitive touchscreen (a 10-inch version might launch next year). It runs a “forked” version of the Android operating system–one derived from an earlier version of Android and optimized for an Amazon-centric experience. And by that I mean an experience that emphasizes pushing Amazon’s content to users and highlights such content–books, music, movies–on the home screen. Siegler reports that the main screen resembles Cover Flow in iTunes; content like books and music will hold pride of place over apps, which constitute the centerpiece of the iPad experience.

The device has no physical buttons on the surface. And though it runs a version of Android, the device is decidedly non-Googly. Google’s Android market is not featured; Amazon’s Android Appstore is. “They are not working with Google on this. At all,” writes Siegler.

And the price? Many have commented that for Amazon to really cut into the iPad’s market share, this thing would have to be priced at or around $300. Amazon is exceeding those low expectations, per Siegler–the tablet will reportedly sell for $250. That’s half the entry-level iPad price. He also says the plan is to currently bundle the purchase with a free membership to Amazon Prime, the typically $79-a-year service that gives free expedited shipping on purchases and, more relevant to tablet owners, access to Amazon Instant Video.

Added to these more concrete observations, Siegler includes a bit of speculation. He guesses a battery life of some 10 hours, he thinks the 7-inch version is single-core, and he believes it has just 6 GB of internal storage, making this a very cloud-dependent device. If you crave more specs and speculation, check out Siegler’s full report.

Meanwhile, Amazon has been rolling out a site redesign that is expected to push the new tablet and optimize the experience for tablet users. The pared-down redesign seems to favor search over browsing, and digital content over retail goods.

So, ultimately, what is this new device?

From the report, it doesn’t really appear to be taking the iPad on directly. If anything, it’s more of a Nook Color competitor than an iPad competitor. Siegler says the device doesn’t even have a camera, ruling out a whole set of important activities an iPad user can engage in. There’s a web browser on the device, but Siegler almost mentions it as an afterthought; he makes no mention of an email client. This doesn’t appear to be the traveling businessperson’s tool that the iPad has become for so many. This new Kindle is a tablet that clearly emphasizes consumption over creation.

Instead, the smartest assessment of what this device I’ve seen yet comes from a TC commenter named Sandhya Hegde (the Facebook account linked to her comment associates her with Stanford, McKinsey & Company, and Sequoia Capital). ” These guys know exactly what they are doing,” she writes: “making themselves irreplaceable in the lives of literate e-commerce junkies.”

That’s spot on–the Kindle tablet is going to be for “literate e-commerce junkies,” people who are ever compulsively downloading books, or TV episodes, or music, or movies. This is a device for those people who are forever saying, “Oh, I shouldn’t…” as they mull that $9.99 book purchase, only to say, “But it’s really not that much,” before clicking. It’s for the people who routinely open emailed receipts from iTunes and marvel, “Did I really buy yet another album?” Only now, increasingly, they’ll be doing it with the push of a button on their Kindle tablet. (Crucially, Amazon likely already has their credit card data.)

This is partially what I meant when I referred, in June, to the Kindle’s “bookish legacy.” Product history matters, and is to a certain extent unescapable (not that Amazon would want to escape it). The Kindle tablet will be less about competing with the iPad, which is a computing device spun out from the iPhone. It will be more about redefining the Kindle itself: transforming it from an e-reader to an e-listener and e-viewer as well, with the Amazon store as its beating, lucrative heart.

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