kindle_bezos_small.jpg
Will Bezos be laughing when the iSlate arrives?
With the holiday shopping season but a memory, with Amazon likely to report impressive year-end sales, how

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Is the Rumored Apple iSlate Aimed at Amazon's Kindle?

kindle_bezos_small.jpg
Will Bezos be laughing when the iSlate arrives?
With the holiday shopping season but a memory, with Amazon likely to report impressive year-end sales, how are retailers, consumers, and electronics manufacturers going to keep busy during the January doldrums? Rumor-mongering, that's how.

Apple hasn't yet announced a product that may or may not be called the iSlate, but that's the company's genius: Whetting the consumer's appetite for products that don't yet exist. The Financial Times and others are reporting that Apple will announce the iSlate on Tues., Jan 26.

The gizmo will supposedly be a bridge between iPhone and laptop, with a big, touch-sensitive surface for Web browsing and other functions. Those other functions are likely to include reading content downloaded from the iTunes store, meaning books and newspapers, which would place the iSlate in direct competition with the Amazon Kindle.

As we've previously noted, no one knows how many Kindles Amazon has sold, because the company doesn't break out those sales figures. But it is, unquestionably No. 1 in its own exclusive market.

But the broader market for electronic readers is becoming much more competitive all of a sudden. Already on store shelves, there's the Barnes & Noble Nook, priced about the same as Kindle ($240-$260). We don't know yet how many units Barnes & Noble sold over the holidays.

The iSlate, rumored for March or April launch, will be considerably upmarket of the two, if rumors are to be believed. Gizmodo prices the device in the $500 pushing toward $999 range, consistent with Apple's premium price tags and high profit margins. That's the opposite approach from Amazon's mass-market, low-markup style of retailing, which has made the company a star during our current economic slump, when customers demand value (and free shipping).

Already, some people are reading books and newspapers on the morning bus ride via their smartphones (the iPhone included). Whether they want to buy another, more expensive device with a larger screen is another question. And more: Would we have to pay for a monthly data plan? Would we have to subscribe to The New York Times or Wall Street Journal? Perhaps Steve Jobs will provide answers at the Jan. 26 press conference.

Also in the e-reader fray is Hearst, owner of The Seattle P-I Web site, which may soon be available--exclusively? behind a pay wall?--via the Skiff. According a company release on Yahoo!, Hearst will debut the Skiff at this week's International Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. It'll run on the Sprint 3G network and be WiFi friendly. The price hasn't yet been announced.

Then there's the small matter of another local company, Microsoft, which is rumored to be planning its own tablet-style device, the Courier. Which, according to Gizmodo, will be a pen-driven device for both note taking and reading. (The Kindle, let's remember, is essentially a one-way communicator. ) No specs have been announced.

If all these tablet devices actually make it to market, Kindle owners may find themselves surrounded on the bus each morning by commuters reading on competing platforms. (And will Amazon sell those rival gadgets? We wonder.) But in Jeff Bezos' own home, however, the Kindle will continue to enjoy its monopoly on his bathtub reading.

 
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