Pondering the Amazon Tablet

TechCrunch has a report from MG Siegler about his experiences playing with the soon-to-be-released Amazon 7” tablet. Let’s assume for the moment that everything he cites is correct. What does this mean for the average Android developer?

First, this device will not qualify for the Android Market, as it will not have Honeycomb or the required buttons for HOME, BACK, etc. TechCrunch has indicated that the device does not have any of the Google applications on it, which also tends to fit devices that do not meet the terms of the Compatibility Definition Document. Any app that assumes the existence of things like the Calendar, Gmail, and so forth may fail on this device.

We also will not know if the device passes the Compatibility Test Suite, unless Amazon makes a statement to that effect or somebody else gives it a whirl. This further clouds Android app compatibility. However, since the only apps available to the device will be from the Amazon Appstore, only those developers who will have dived into that marketplace will have to worry about immediate compatibility concerns.

Assuming that Amazon is vetting their own Appstore content to confirm it runs well on this tablet, and assuming the claimed $250 price point holds true, this device is likely to sell very well. That’s around the price point of the first couple of generations of Kindle when they first came out, and this tablet will be an all-around more capable unit (albeit with a traditional backlit LCD instead of e-ink). Assuming Amazon promotes it to the same level they did with the Kindle, a couple of million tablets sold by the end of the year would seem well within reach.

This poses a challenge for Android developers: do you target this device or not? Akin to those experimenting with shipping apps for the Barnes & Noble NOOK, you have the advantage of less competition in the market, making your apps that much more likely to be discovered. However, compared to your average Android device, there may be greater compatibility concerns, increasing the cost to you for getting on these devices. There is no right or wrong answer here — it’s whatever you think will deliver you the right results.

TechCrunch indicates that:

You bring up a lower navigation menu by tapping the screen once. This can take you back home, etc.

It remains to be seen how this will interact with applications that already support touch events. My hope is that the article’s author is slightly off in his statement, and that there’s some particular part of the screen you tap or something else to more clearly differentiate between “give me the HOME button” and other touch events.

The article’s author thinks that the Kindle-ized OS on these tablets is based off of “some version of Android prior to 2.2”. That’s a tad on the old side. Many “big ticket” capabilities added since then would not be relevant (e.g., NFC) due to what the hardware has. However, there are lots of smaller things, from setPackage() on Intent for “narrowcasting”, to DownloadManager for more reliable large-file retrievals, that would be nice to have. Also, since users are less likely to be trading in tablets, the way they might be replacing Eclair-based phones, this will increase the longetivity of an older Android, until Amazon elects to ship some sort of upgrade. Also, this probably would be the most popular large-screen device on such an older Android, which is a combination many developers will not have encountered before.

So, keep your eyes out for this device in the coming weeks. We will see how many of the claims made in the article are indeed accurate. From there, those of you not in the Appstore can make the decision of whether to dive in on this tablet, and those of you in the Appstore hopefully get nicely discounted hardware to play with… :-)