Does Amazon Have An iPad Killer Up Its Sleeve?

By Michael K. Dawson :

On Friday, Twitter was buzzing when TechCrunch reported that one of its editors had seen and played with the Amazon Tablet . Adding to the excitement was that it's expected to ship in November with a price of $250. This combined with a report from Forrester Research claiming that Amazon ( AMZN ) would sell 3-5 million tablets in Q4 had the Apple ( AAPL ) haters doing cartwheels. Finally, Apple was going to get its comeuppance. Before we get too far, let me just say in my opinion, this will not be an iPad Killer. Not even close. However, if it plays out as reported this will be a brilliant move by Amazon and will definitely keep Apple on its toes. Now let me explain my thinking.

Last week Horace Dediu on wrote a post called The Case for the iPad's future . The article addressed the topic of low end disruption and questioned if the iPad was at risk. Toyota ( TM ) is the classic example of low end disruption. Toyota entered the US auto market many years ago by offering a small inexpensive car. The Big Three ignored the low end of the markets as the majority of the profits were in the higher end. Fast forward the story, now the Toyota Camry is the best selling mid-sized car in the US. Also Toyota's luxury brand, Lexus, easily outsells the US made luxury cars each year. This pattern is repeated throughout many industries. PCs disrupted mini-computers in the '80s. Now it appears as though tablets will disrupt PCs. Horace made the case that the potential for low-end disruption of the iPad is not immediate. Read his article for more details. I initially agreed with Horace's position, however the Tech Crunch report gave me some new information to consider.

HP's TouchPad was supposedly next in line for the iPad Killer crown, but after 10 weeks of virtually no sales - HP ( HPQ ) pulled the plug. A buying fervor developed when HP dropped the price to $99. Supply sold out in days and started a huge debate on using price to disrupt the iPad. In my opinion, the discussion was nonsensical. Of course selling a $500 list price device for $99 would sell. However, no company could stay in business with such a pricing strategy.

I find it amusing when people say that the iPad sells for $499, so a competitor's initial selling price should be lower than that. The bill of materials for tablets containing the specifications of an iPad or TouchPad are estimated in the $300 price range. I worked for a semiconductor company and let me say most likely Apple's material costs are lower than $300 and HP's costs are higher than $300. It is simple. Apple is expected to sell +40 million iPads in 2011 and HP sold maybe 500,000 at a fire sale. Volume drives component pricing. Apple has the best supply chain relationships and volumes in the business - I am fairly certain that no one can build an equivalent product cheaper. Motorola ( MMI ) proved my point when it released the Xoom. It was higher priced than the iPad - not because Motorola was greedy, but because its costs determined the price. Obviously a company can use lower spec components to lower price - for example a single core processor instead of a multi-core one, but I am talking about equivalently spec'd products.

Now back to Amazon. In my opinion, the brilliance of Amazon strategy per Tech Crunch is that Amazon is not attacking Apple head on. I'm sorry, even with Amazon ecosystem advantages over the other iPad wannabes it would be years before it could catch Apple in volume. The successful disrupters have always started at the low-end and they have not started by selling a $500 product for $250. They have started by selling a $250 product for $250. This is exactly what Amazon is doing. The Kindle will be 7 inches not 10 like the iPad. It will have a single core processor instead of a multi-core. It won't have front or rear camera. It will have two finger multi-touch instead of the 10-finger. This is a device that Apple has absolutely no interest in making as it is moving up the chain tackling more PC capabilities.

So the question becomes, who would want such an under-powered device? It just so happens that Amazon has a huge installed Kindle user base that would not consider this under-powered at all. The number of people wanting to upgrade simply for the color screen alone would be crazy. Not Motorola, HP or anyone else can pull off a strategy such as this. I tweeted the following a few days ago:

As I said, I don't think this will be an iPad Killer. The Kindle and iPad have co-existed just fine. However, I do believe it has the potential to grow the market. There is a market for a fully spec'd non-iPad tablet. There are people who simply will not buy an Apple product no matter how magical it is. In time, Amazon will be well positioned to serve that need. I don't think that Apple will fret over this, but it will be enough to keep it looking over its shoulder. That will benefit all of us.

Disclosure : Long Apple.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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