What to expect from Wednesday's Amazon event

Most people are betting that Amazon.com will unveil its new Android tablet on Wednesday. But could it also introduce a new e-ink reader? Here's the skinny on all the possibilities.

Amazon's Kindle tablet is expected to cost $249, be Wi-Fi only, and have no camera.

In case you missed it, Amazon.com is having a big press event this Wednesday in New York to roll out something new. OK, maybe it's not Apple kind of big. But it's big enough, especially with the smart money on Jeff Bezos unveiling Amazon's much-anticipated Android tablet (leaks suggest it may be called the Kindle Fire ), which a lot of anti-Apple folks hope can slow down the iPad juggernaut.

Will we see two tablets--a 7-incher and a 10-incher--or just one? If it is a tablet, will it really be branded the "Kindle Fire" or something else? Will there be a new e-ink Kindle? After all, it's been over a year since Amazon introduced the Kindle 3--isn't it time for a new model?

Lots of questions remain, so with that in mind, here's a short preview of what we could see on Wednesday and the odds of each option actually coming to fruition.

The 7-inch Kindle tablet for $249

This is the product that most people expect Amazon to introduce. It's basically Amazon's answer to the Barnes & Noble Nook Color, and though it will look a lot like some of the smaller Android tablets out there (the screen will be LCD, not e-ink), it will have a slick, heavily modified user interface that tightly integrates Amazon's multimedia offerings, including its curated Amazon Appstore for Android, Kindle Store (e-books), Instant Video streaming service, MP3 Store, and Cloud Drive.

Aside from the inviting, "user-friendly" UI, the biggest advantage Amazon's tablet will have over the Nook Color is improved performance with a faster processor (probably single-core, at least 1GHz). There's some talk that Samsung is involved in the manufacturing of the Amazon tablet and we suspect that this will simply be a more affordable version of the Samsung Galaxy Tab minus the built-in camera and any 3G support (the Amazon tablet will most likely be Wi-Fi-only when it launches).

Will it be called a Kindle? Well, according to MG Siegler over at TechCrunch, who says he got a sneak peek at the device, it will be in the Kindle family and some late rumors have Amazon settling on the name Kindle Fire. Siegler described the device as looking similar to the BlackBerry PlayBook, which means it will have a simple, elegant design, with Amazon is doing its best to put an Apple-esque sheen on the device's interface.

Siegler initially reported that Amazon would bundle in a year's worth of Amazon Prime membership (a $79 value) with the purchase of the tablet. That way you'd be able to tap into its "free" Prime Instant video service and stream movies and TV shows on the device. But he's now backed off that claim.

What else? From Siegler's preview, it was unclear whether the tablet would have an expansion slot for more memory, but it seems odd that it wouldn't include one (Siegler says the device he saw had 6GB of internal memory, though that 6GB might have represented "usable memory").

The key here, of course, is price. Amazon has already seen Barnes & Noble's success with the Nook Color at $249, so the reality is that all it has to do is create a better, faster version of the Nook Color for the same price and it will have a winner on its hands. However, we suspect that Amazon will make it very hard to "root" its device with custom Android firmware. Siegler reported that the Android Market wasn't anywhere to be found on the device he saw; just Amazon's Appstore for Android--a "curated" version of the store that offers a smaller selection of the overall universe of Android apps.

Odds of a Kindle tablet: 99 percent




Two tablets (7-incher and 10-incher)

Word is that Amazon wants to avoid competing directly with Apple--at least this year. It's smartly going to test the waters in the less competitive 7-inch arena before it jumps into the 10-inch ring. (Rumors have long persisted that Amazon was developing a 7-inch and 10-inch tablet simultaneously.) While a more expensive 10-incher could still be on deck for 2012, we don't expect Amazon to introduce two tablets at Wednesday's event.

Odds of two tablet announcements: 10 percent




Will Amazon intro a new e-ink model to counter the Nook Touch? Barnes&Noble

New touch-screen e-ink Kindle/$99 Kindle

After Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Kobo all came out with new touch-based e-ink readers recently, we thought Amazon would counter with its own next-generation e-ink reader for the holiday season.

The other rumor out there is that instead of moving to a touch-screen interface, which costs more to implement, Amazon will put out a new "budget" Kindle that's on par with or slightly better than the existing model but can be manufactured for less, allowing for a sub-$100 price tag.

Alternately, Amazon could also just drop the price on its existing Kindle to $99 (for the Special Offers version that's now $114) and call it a day.

While we definitely prefer the touch-screen interface, and it helps shrink the device by doing away with the keypad, the existing Kindle is a perfectly capable e-reader that has audio support and just recently added e-book library lending.

Odds of a touch-screen e-ink Kindle: 40 percent

Odds of a $99 Kindle: 25 percent




Final thoughts

Over the years, we've gone to several Kindle events, and Amazon usually announces one product at a time. Whether it will be different this time is hard to say, but one thing pointing to the possible launch of an e-ink reader alongside a color-screen LCD tablet is Amazon's recent price drops for its refurbished Kindle units (the Wi-Fi-only version is down to $99 and has been seen as low as $84.99). In the past, at least, that's signaled that a new model is on the way.

We'll know soon enough. CNET will be covering the Amazon press conference live on Wednesday at 7 a.m. PT/10 a.m. ET. If anything else leaks before the event, we'll be sure to post it. Until then, feel free to give your take on Amazon's potential product announcement--or announcements--in the comments section below.

 

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