The fact that Amazon is looking to capitalise on its Kindle success with a full-blooded tablet is no secret, and the rumour is that it will be announced - if not formally launched - before the week is out. But what will it be?
Amazon's Kindle eReaders have proven incredibly successful, joining a high-contrast eInk display with wireless connectivity that allows on-the-go eBook purchasing on a whim. The product is so successful that it's been at the top of Amazon's bestseller list for months, and eBooks sold through the Kindle Store are starting to outnumber their paper equivalents.
Amazon's prodded at the burgeoning tablet market before: as well as the large-format Kindle DX, which was designed as a textbook replacement for education, it produces tablet-friendly Kindle software for devices from Apple's iPad to HP's TouchPad.
That's not the same as having your own hardware, however, and moves by Apple and others to charge a hefty fee on in-app transactions have left Amazon running to a HTML5-based Kindle service to avoid such charges. On Amazon-provided hardware, of course, this isn't a problem.
As a result, it seems clear that it's in Amazon's best interest to launch a tablet platform of its own. The Kindle is still proving popular, but tablets are more popular still - and typically fetch a higher price, translating into higher profit on the initial sale even before a single Kindle Edition eBook has been purchased.
With Amazon expected to launch its tablet in the next couple of days, rumours are flying regarding its design and function. It's generally agreed that, as first reported by TechCrunch (opens in new tab), the device will be called the Kindle Fire, and that it wil include a full-colour touch-screen display along with the processing power to be a true tablet.
A more interesting rumour from gdgt (opens in new tab) points to ODM giant Quanta as the manufacturer, and makes the claim that the design is a 'stopgap' measure introduced in a hurry to get the device out in time for the Christmas sales rush.
According to that report, Quanta has taken the BlackBerry PlayBook hardware design and dropped the specifications - in particular with the use of a cheaper CPU - in order to get a system ready for Amazon to sell within the next few months. If true, that's a bad sign: the PlayBook has not been a top seller even with its original, faster processor and a crippled version is unlikely to set the world aflame.
With that said, Amazon has one major selling point behind it: the Kindle brand. Although the original Kindle hardware was poor, suffering from a slow screen refresh and awkward navigation, subsequent devices have been a vast improvement. While the Kindle Fire might prove to be a 'stopgap' solution, there's nothing to say that the Kindle Fire 2 or 3 won't be the iPad killer for which the company's fans have been waiting.
There's one last piece to the puzzle: the operating system. The PlayBook proper uses a customised build of real-time operating system QNX, but that's a proprietary RIM solution and can be discounted. The most likely option, therefore, is either a custom Amazon operating system or Google's popular Android platform.
Amazon's never shown any interest in developing its own software before, which leaves Android as the most likely choice for the Kindle Fire's operating system. It also helps to explain Amazon's decision to launch its own Android application store: with Google charging OEMs for access to the Android Market, the Kindle Fire will likely ship with Amazon's equivalent instead.
With Amazon due to host a press conference late tomorrow, we shouldn't have long to wait to see if these predictions prove true.