So Amazon’s tablet is a go

Reports of Amazon’s tablet plans are trickling out. Basically, it’s going to be a 7-inch tablet running a very customized version of Android, tweaked to play media purchased from Amazon, and priced at $250, half the price of an entry-level Apple Ipad. (In English, we capitalize the first letter of proper nouns, and my native language is English, not C++, if you’re wondering.) Techcrunch and The Register have some of the details. The name: Amazon Kindle. The release date: end of November.

I wouldn’t call it a can’t-miss, but it’s clear Amazon’s thought a lot of things through here.

Open vs. Proprietary

Previous Android devices have been considerably more open than Apple. Apple’s offering is proprietary. Amazon took the Apple route. They’re betting that if people can do a limited number of things very easily, they won’t care about all the things they can’t do. I might, and you might, but there are millions of people who don’t care about what they can’t do with Apple’s tablet and happily buy it, because it’s easy to use.

Windows isn’t as open as Android either, and it’s been pretty successful.

And you know what? Chances are, people like you and me can buy a Kindle tablet and hack it open, eventually. The Android modding community won’t be able to resist the challenge.

Price

Amazon had to have planned this long before the HP tablet fiasco exploded because it was clearly designed from the start to be less expensive than HP’s ill-fated tablet, most notably by using a single-core processor. At $250, the price is probably still subsidized. But it’s half the price of an Apple, and I believe if the public perceives it to be more than half as good, they’ll happily buy it. And Amazon has a plan to make its subsidy back–selling books, music and movies for people to consume on it.

At $99, HP’s flop became an instant sensation. Amazon can’t meet that price point just yet, but I do expect them to drop the price relatively quickly.

Timing

Amazon is late, late, late to this game, but with a low price and ease of use. People forget that Windows wasn’t competitive with the Mac until 1990. Commodore and Atari came out with GUI computers five years earlier, both of which were better than Windows 3.0 in most respects much earlier, and yet Microsoft won. So Amazon is following a formula that worked pretty well in the past, considering there’s better than a 9 in 10 chance you’re reading this right now on a PC running Windows.

Amazon is wisely releasing this just before the Christmas buying season. This may not be the hot Christmas present this year, but it stands a chance. And if this year isn’t its year, next year could be. In 2001, DVD players cost $200. In 2002, they fell to below $100, and 2002 was coined The Year of the DVD Player. Perhaps Amazon can’t get the price down to $99 by November 2012, but $149 might be reachable. Or perhaps they could do a limited-time promotion. I’m sure they’re thinking along those lines.

Outlook

There’s no such thing as a no-compromises tablet right now, and Amazon knows it. I won’t race out to buy one of these right away, but in 8-12 months I might. The price is low enough that a lot of people will buy them, if not as their primary tablets, then as a secondary tablet for their kids. I’m amazed how many tablets I see in airports, and when there’s a viable tablet available for less than $500 that makes it easy to watch movies, read books, or listen to music–three of the best ways to while away time at the airport when a flight is delayed or on those days when it doesn’t take two hours to get through the TSA–there will be even more of them.

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