Update: Amazon announces Kindle Fire tablet to rival iPad

Amazon is expected to introduce a tablet Wednesday. It is expected to be an expanded version of the company’s popular Kindle e-reader. TechCrunch reported that the tablet will go by the rather punny name of the Kindle Fire. Below is a roundup of advance reports and rumors about the tablet.

Form: The tablet is expected to be a 7-inch slate, according to TechCrunch’s MG Siegler, who says he’s had some hands-on time with the device. The screen is said to be backlit — not e-ink like the reader — and to be similar in style to the BlackBerry PlayBook, but without a camera. That makes it easy to slip in a small purse or bag, but with less screen real estate than most best-selling tablets.

Specs: In addition to looking like the PlayBook, the Amazon tablet is expected to have specs similar to BlackBerry’s tablet because, according to GDGT’s Ryan Block, it was made by the same hardware designer, Quanta. Block reported that the tablet is likely a “stopgap” device to let the company enter the tablet market as quickly as possible. But TechCrunch countered that report with Siegler’s comments that the Kindle Fire had better performance than the BlackBerry, though it sports the same dual-core processor.

That, he said, is because the tablet has better software. The Fire is expected to run an Amazon-specific version of Android believed to be built off version 2.1. Siegler reported that he believes the device he used has 6GB of storage and is WiFi-only.

iPad killer?: So can this tablet kill the iPad? That depends on a couple of factors. The Kindle Fire of rumor lacks some of the key features of the iPad. It is expected to deliver users access to streaming video, as well as e-books, apps and music, and have a Web browser, but no native e-mail client, TechCrunch reported. The lack of a camera also puts the device behind the iPad in terms of functionality.

But the tablet has at least one rumored advantage over the iPad — a lower price. The tablet is expected to sell for under $300, which is much cheaper than any other mainstream WiFi tablet. (You can get some tablets cheaper with a wireless contract.)

Given what’s been leaked about the tablet so far, it sounds like the device itself won’t compete closely with the iPad, Galaxy Tab 10.1 or other top tablets out there. But it doesn’t necessarily have to do that to be a success. As a content provider, Amazon has built a name for itself as the one-stop shop for everything, and the Kindle’s proven that the company knows how to use its own hardware to sell content.

The Fire’s real magic is its potential as a portable storefront to all of Amazon’s stores — which provide everything from sports equipment to streaming TV shows. A tablet would simply add another piece to the company’s thriving ecosystem.

The promise of the Kindle tablet is not in the device’s potential to compete with the iPad, but rather in Amazon’s potential to compete with Apple.

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