So, MG Siegler says an Amazon tablet is coming, and that he’s used it. Meanwhile, HackerNews is caught up in a lengthy discussion as to whether tablets are consumption devices, and whether or not that’s good for society… or something. Elsewhere in the discussion, the tablet is being doomed to failure because Amazon chose to fork Android, risking app compatibility with the plethora of high-quality applications available on the wonderfully organized and widely praised Android Marketplace. Pardon my condescending sarcasm.
Way to miss the point, folks.
I feel like history is repeating itself. I have a feeling that Amazon is about to pull an Apple here, and one of the only communities of people I know who are supposed to be dedicated to looking forward are stuck on a backward-facing philosophical discussion of consumption versus creation. That ship has sailed! Others are failing to see that creating “yet another Android tablet” isn’t the way to distinguish yourself in the market.
Amazon is a unique company. Have a look at the existing players in the tablet market:
- At their core, a computing device company
- Has content distribution relationships (iTunes content partners) for music, movies, and books
- Powerful infrastructure support (data centers, iCloud)
- Makes money on the hardware sale, as well as the sale of content
- A search company
- Builds a tablet OS, but doesn’t actually sell a tablet
- Wants customers to spend a lot of time in Google web properties
- Wants to expand in to media (Google Music) and shopping search to sell more ads
- A consumer electronics company
- Makes a wide variety of devices, including several tablets
- Doesn’t have their own tablet OS (relies on Android)
- World’s largest online retailer
- Has 137 million active customers 
- Has quality content distribution relations for music, movies, books, clothing, electronics, lawn mowers… anything else you can think of
- Knows how to build a successful hardware platform (Kindle)
- Highest rated in customer satisfaction 
Amazon is unique in their online retail scope and experience with hardware products. Only Apple can come compare, and the focuses are flipped. Apple’s primary focus is hardware, with a strong media distribution backing. Amazon’s primary focus is online retailing, with a strong hardware product. Arguably, their converse efforts are disproportionate. That is to say, I don’t think the Kindle is as strong a corollary to Amazon’s retail business as Apple’s iTunes Store (apps, music, and movies) is to their hardware. Still I don’t think Amazon’s diverse strengths can be easily dismissed. They’re in a better position than both Google and Samsung to challenge the iPad as the dominant product in the tablet space.
If I were on Amazon’s tablet team, I’d try to make the device the center of the mass market consumer’s consumption lifestyle. People clearly love to shop Amazon, so make it easy for them. An Amazon tablet could fulfill the dreams of 1970s futurists who believed that housewives would purchase household products from a screen in their kitchens and living rooms. Amazon is in a unique position to provide a customer experience that spans everything from digital music to purchasing a new lawn chair on a single device through software that is smart and intuitive. This could be the device that actually makes people want to do these things. If they deliver on that, they’ll be in the game.