Amazon Might Own Android Tablet Market

I've not had my hands on an Kindle Fire but the reviews are generally fair to negative, except in the context of its price: "a good tablet for the price" is the consensus. And consumers are responding to that price in large numbers. Amazon will sell millions of Kindle Fire tablets to existing Kindle owners and to some would-be iPad buyers seduced by the $199 price and the assurances of the Amazon brand.

Amazon is also intending to release a larger version of the Kindle Fire next year, though it won't be quite as large as the iPad. Putting aside the Nook and hypothetical Windows tablets, Amazon's Kindle Fire is instantly the most successful tablet after the iPad by a huge margin.

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Until someone else comes along with a cheaper, better Android tablet Amazon owns the market. So when the dust settles early next year after holiday sales are over it will effectively be a two tablet market: Apple vs. Amazon. I say "Apple vs. Amazon" because Amazon has effectively obscured all Android (and Google) branding. Most people buying a Kindle Fire don't know or care that they're buying an "Android device." 

It's possible that Samsung or HTC will build a competitive tablet featuring Android 4.0 ("Ice Cream Sandwich"). But the current crop of Gingerbread and Honeycomb tablets simply "blow" (as they say in the vernacular) by comparison to the iPad. It would also be very challenging for any Android tablet maker to match Amazon's pricing given that the company is effectively taking a loss -- sellig the device for less than it costs to make on the assumption that it will increase product and content sales for Amazon.

There is a scenario where wireless carriers give away some future, stellar Android tablet in exchange for two year contract commitments. However, consumers are basically loathe to enter into a second set of wireless contracts beyond the ones they already have for their smartphones. WiFi tablets are more popular than carrier-subsidized tablets. It's therefore a much longer shot.

Recent consumer surveys from Retrevo, Nielsen and ChangeWave have shown increasing demand for tablets, with the iPad leading the group but with Kindle also in the clear second position.

As tablets replace PCs for some people the question of how other PC OEMs repond to the Apple-Amazon challenge becomes a major, strategic question. As Samsung, Dell and others have already shown, they can't (so far) match Apple on quality or hardware-software integration. And they can't match Amazon on price.

Thus until the forseeable future it's a two tablet race. And right now Amazon owns Android.