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Amazon Preps Kindle for Apple Tablet Onslaught


Popular e-book reader soon to be equipped with third-party apps.

Months of rumors and speculation. Thousands of anonymous tips. Millions of predictions. All can't properly prepare fans for the inevitable: Apple (AAPL) will be unveiling its tablet computer next week. Finally confirmed by the likes of the Wall Street Journal, beginning Wednesday January 27, Apple will draw the curtain on what might be the death knell of print publication and newspaper stands.

We're, uh, pretty sure -- at least 99.9% positive. We think.

But Amazon (AMZN) isn't willing to gamble on the possibility that Steve Jobs played us all for rubes. The online retailer has released a software development kit for its popular Kindle devices, opening it up to third-party apps. Already, Electronic Arts (ERTS) and mobile game developer Sonic Book are designing games for the e-reader, and restaurant review aggregator Zagat will be working on city guides. But the majority of these apps won't be available until "later this year" -- a dubious and relatively lengthy window for software development. (See also In Kindle vs. Apple Tablet, Sony Surefire Loser)

So for the time being, the Amazon Kindle will remain your standard, run-of-the-mill e-reader.

Like many other publishers and media houses, Amazon recognizes the potential threat of a highly portable, multi-functional tablet computer bearing an Apple logo. Those who haven't already met with the folks from Cupertino -- The New York Times Company (NYT), HarperCollins (NWS), and Condé Nast have -- are either preparing for the meetings, laboring over a possible Apple Tablet threat of their own, or completely deluding themselves.

Also, the Apple Tablet will undoubtedly have more dynamic features than the Kindle could ever possibly produce. Even in the world of digital libraries, e-readers' fates are threatened by the Apple Tablet's ability to deliver the old physical book killers: radio and video. Steve Jobs and Co. have also met with CBS (CBS) and Disney (DIS) to discuss possible content collaboration and monthly TV subscription service -- which may be integrated into the company's much-ballyhooed product. Despite instantaneous downloads and a virtual bookstore in your handbag, the Kindle is still no match for last week's CSI on demand. (See also The Newest Apple of Steve's Eye)

Nevertheless, Amazon is wise to open up its e-reader line to third-party development -- if only to better compete with Barnes and Noble's (BKS) Nook and the Sony (SNE) Reader. The graphic limitations of the screen may keep Super Monkey Ball off the table of possibilities. And the lack of GPS keeps location-aware apps hindered with a constant zip code entry. And with accelerometers missing from older Kindle models, certain auto-rotation and resizing is just not possible. Not to mention Amazon's refusal for certain types of apps like Internet calling and "offensive material." And despite the fact that many Kindle users have the majority of these useful apps on their smartphones or iPod Touches, well...

If a cash-strapped book lover sees the price tag of a Kindle alongside the purported cost of $1,000+ for the Apple Tablet, it won't be surprising which one they choose.
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