Amazon is not messing around. The online retail giant will allegedly release five or six new tablet models, including one 10-inch version, according to Demos Parneros, president of retail for Staples, who spoke with Reuters. (Staples sells Amazon’s 7-inch Kindle Fire tablet.) Whether or not that “five or six SKUs” that Parneros is talking about means half a dozen wildly different devices, or just different storage sizes and connectivity options (Wi-Fi-only, 3G/4G), and only a small number of screen size options, we cannot say. But one thing is clear: Amazon sees its future in mobile.
We’ve been hearing rumors about a new Kindle Fire set to arrive sometime this summer. Some reports have even indicated that Amazon would unveil two new devices. But six new tablets, well, that’s new. We’ve even heard reports that Amazon plans to release a smartphone — and that could still be the case. After all, Amazon’s mobile strategy is not based upon making one superior device — the Kindle Fire is really just ‘good enough’ — it is to get a device in the hands of as many people as possible, people who will hopefully buy more stuff through Amazon.
Adding fuel to the Amazon smartphone fire is that fact that Amazon has gone on a hiring spree at its Lab126 research and design center, which is just down the road from Apple’s Cupertino, California, headquarters. According to Reuters, “seven” of the recent job postings at Lab126 have been for engineers with experience designing products that work on 3G and 4G networks. Two of those posts have been filled by Windows Phone engineers. Of course, this could all mean that Amazon is simply adding cellular connectivity to its tablets, which wouldn’t be much of a surprise either. At this point, we’d wager that they have both device types in the works.
Amazon’s current Kindle Fire offering is fairly stripped down: The $200 tablet only has 8GB of storage, includes no cameras, and is Wi-Fi-only. It also runs a heavily modified version of Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), which is made specifically for consuming digital content, like movies, books,and magazines, from Amazon’s online store. For a while, this was all fairly great deal. But with the recent release of the Google Nexus 7, the 8GB version of which also costs $200 and includes the latest version of Android (4.1 “Jelly Bean”) and does have a front-facing camera for video chat, the Kindle Fire is suddenly far from the best non-iPad tablet on the block.
Amazon has so far refused to comment on the new tablets rumor. However, the nature of this report is somewhat interesting. Unlike most device rumors, this one comes from a very prominent source: a high-level Staples executive who apparently agreed to have his name linked to the un-announced information. Given that Staples is an Amazon retail partner, it seems likely that Amazon knew Parneros planned to leak the information — it may have even requested he do as much.
All of this is just our own speculation, of course, but given the surging popularity Google’s new tablet, it doesn’t take a wild imagination to conceive that Amazon wants to steal some of the Nexus 7’s thunder.