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Amazon Tablet In 2011? Now We're Talking

New evidence suggests Amazon could launch its own tablet this year; bringing a new kind of competition to the market

The world of tablets is about to get very interesting.

New evidence published this week suggests Amazon is growing closer to launching its own tablet device. Taiwanese newspaper Digitimes says a manufacturer called Quanta Computer has received orders to work on the Android-based gadget, which will supposedly ship in the second half of this year.

We've heard about a possible Amazon Android tablet before, but this is the first time we've seen such firm-sounding details. Previous speculation has suggested the Amazon tab could include tightly integrated access to the company's retail services, ranging from music and video purchases to a Kindle-like bookshop, all packaged within a custom interface.

Amazon Tablet: Not Your Average Android Product

Now, anyone who's followed my musings over the years knows I tend to shy away from manufacturer-added skins baked into the Android OS. The reason: On a typical device, these skins tend to slow down performance and add needless delays into the Android upgrade process. They also force users to carry around a bunch of uninstallable extra weight they may or may not actually want. The manufacturers could just as easily offer their features as removable widgets and apps without welding them into the operating system and causing all sorts of issues.

With this rumored Amazon tablet, though, we're looking at a completely different kind of product. Provided the buzz we've heard turns out to be true, the Amazon tab could be so heavily customized that it wouldn't even look or feel like Android. We're talking about someone taking the basic Android infrastructure and using it to create a whole new kind of item -- one where the traditional Android upgrade cycle would be far less significant, as you'd barely know you're using an Android-based device.

This is where the Android ecosystem really has the potential to open up some fascinating doors. While other manufacturers have taken the stock Android software and muddled it up for no apparent reason, a company like Amazon has the potential to build a truly unique and useful platform around its own services. The recently launched Amazon Appstore for Android and Amazon Cloud Drive -- the latter of which provides integrated purchasing, storing, and streaming of digital music -- could play key roles in the experience. Throw in an eyeball-friendly E Ink display and an Amazon-connected platform for streaming and storing videos, and you've got a pretty compelling little gizmo on your hands.

Amazon Tablet and the Rest of the Tablet Market

So, the big question: Would something like this be better than more traditional tablets like the Motorola Xoom, LG G-Slate, or Apple iPad? Not necessarily; it all comes down to what you want. The point is that it'd be something different -- and something that'd add a new kind of value into the tablet market. An Amazon tablet, in the incarnation we're envisioning, would address a very different segment of the market than a regular Honeycomb tab or an iPad. Whether or not it'd be your cup of tea, the kind of diversity and competition it could add into an often homogenous-seeming field is an exciting prospect to consider.

Back when Amazon first gave us a glimpse at its Android app store -- amidst plenty of pish-poshing from execs of a certain competing mobile platform -- I sensed we were seeing the beginning of something big. Days later, when Amazon announced its Cloud Drive music storage solution, it became even more apparent that the company was out to seriously shake up the mobile landscape.

A fully functioning Amazon tablet would be the next logical piece in that rapidly forming puzzle. Between that and whatever tricks Google still has up its sleeve (an Android Nexus tab, perhaps?), the realm of slates is shaping up to be anything but stagnant in the months to come.

JR Raphael is a PCWorld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. You can find him on both Facebook and Twitter.

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