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Amazon tablet talk: 3 reasons you should care

Consumer Reports News: May 16, 2011 12:08 PM

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There's no Amazon tablet, at least yet, but interest is intensifying. A rumor, posted by Android and Me, of multiple Android devices coming from Amazon has fired speculation about not only a tablet from the company but a smart phone and TV set-top box, too.

Coverage of the rumor has been accompanies by extensive reporting of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos's remarks to Consumer Reports that people should "stay tuned" for the company's tablet intentions. The collective result has been a level of chatter about as-yet-unconfirmed devices that rivals the perennial guessing about Apple's product intentions.

In addition to its own reporting, the Android and Me report brings together other rumored indications of Amazon R&D work on a tablet, including a New York Times report of a hiring blitz at the Amazon division responsible for its Kindle e-book reader. It also speculates that Amazon will use a low-power-consumption color-display technology. Citing Bezos's remarks in our interview about the shortcomings of color E Ink displays, the report suggests that the chosen technology may be a new and improved version of Qualcomm's Mirasol.

So is all this attention to an unconfirmed rumor--and to an interview in which Bezos was merely a little less oblique than in the past--a case of media overkill, driven by the interests of Amazon shareholders?

Perhaps. But here are three reasons that Amazon's plans merit consumer attention:

1. The Kindle is a killer device. Through its four years, and three versions, the Amazon Kindle e-book reader has demonstrated that Amazon has what it takes to create and sustain a hit product. Where other competitors have either faded (Sony, which pioneered e-book readers but has struggled to stay dominant) or faltered (Barnes & Noble, whose Nook e-book reader made a buggy debut), Amazon hasn't made any serious missteps with the Kindle. It remains the best standalone e-book reader on the market--as demonstrated by our Ratings of e-book readers, available to subscribers.

2. Amazon's product ethos applied to a tablet would be intriguing. Where many other e-book readers have tried to be multipurpose devices as well, often failing at both, Amazon has kept the Kindle very focused on reading books. During his interview with me, Bezos pointed out that the Kindle isn't one-dimensional; among other capabilities, it has a Web browser and allows you to play MP3 files. But it succeeds, he asserted, is because "it gets out of the way and disappears and lets you get on with your reading."

Bezos went on to contrast the allure of multiple features and functions, which help sell a device, with "what really matters when people get the device home, and [are] using it," which is "ease of use and simplicity." It'll be fascinating to watch how Bezos hews to that philosophy if he launches devices, like tablets, that are built around multifunctionality.

3. The synergies with other Amazon offerings would be natural. The new Kindle with Special Offers, which uses the device to offer deals on Amazon merchandise, exemplifies the company using existing services to support and enhance new hardware. The Amazon Appstore for Android and Amazon Cloud Drive music-storage service, both launched in March, both seem tailor-made for Amazon tablets and other mobile devices.

The timing for any Amazon announcement is just a guess, for now. However, it'll be interesting to see whether Amazon is willing to watch its leading competitor, Barnes & Noble, announce a new version of its Nook or Nook Color e-book reader in about a week without at least hinting soon at its own plans for new hardware.

Paul Reynolds

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