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Amazon’s tablet could rival the iPad. Will Apple know how to respond without Steve Jobs as CEO?

Not so long ago, Apple fans would rejoice at every fraction of a percentage the company’s computers gained in market share. If Mac sales went from 3.5 per cent to 3.7 per cent, it was a big deal – a sign that they might live another day.


Today, Apple dominates the tablet market with the iPad, outselling all other competitors by at least 2:1 and potentially as much as 20:1. With figures like that, it’d be more accurate to say that there isn’t a tablet market, there’s just an iPad market. Samsung, HTC, HP – none of these massive companies have been able to make more than the slightest impression on consumers.

But if there’s one company that can, it’s Amazon, which is expected to release a tablet computer before Christmas. They have a proven track record of building devices consumers buy and love with the Kindle, and crucially they have the world’s biggest online store. It still won’t be easy for them due to Apple’s headstart, brand recognition, and massive developer support, but there are three things they’d be well-advised to do:

1. Undercut the iPad. At £399, it’s still out of range of many people, and a cheaper – and yes, perhaps bulkier, slower, and less sexy – device that costs only £250 would certainly find millions of fans.

2. Keep focused on reading, and on media. Amazon lead the eBook market and are making solid in-roads to music, TV and film sales. If their tablet can beat the iPad on battery life, they’ll have at least one important advantage that matters a lot for some. Don’t try and beat the iPad at its own game.

3. Throw your weight around. Amazon’s sheer size means it can make authors, developers, and production companies offers they can’t refuse, whether they’re exclusive distribution deals or deep discounting requirements (which they’re controversially already doing on their app store).

When the Amazon tablet is announced, it’s certain that some pundits will rush to declare that this must be the end of Apple, particularly now that Steve Jobs has left. How could they possibly respond to such a mass-market competitor without their greatest leader? Could this be the first big test for their new CEO, Tim Cook?

The answer is: no.

It’s been an open secret that Amazon have been planning a tablet for at least the past couple of years, based on their hires, their Android app store, and the simple fact that they’re not stupid. And Apple are used to planning ahead – iPhone components typically undergo testing for at least two years, and their designs have to be locked down months in advance.

While Apple’s notorious secrecy sometimes leads people to believe that they just come up with products at the drop of a hat, their intricate and world-spanning networks of manufacturers, suppliers, and integrators means that they have a fully-stocked product pipeline that goes out two or three years from now. In other words, Apple already knows how it’s going to respond to Amazon’s tablet with the iPad 3 and iPad 4. No doubt they’ll diversify into high-end and low-end versions, and Steve Jobs will have been involved in those plans.

Of course, you might wonder what will happen when that pipeline runs out; will Apple’s products no longer have that “magic” that Steve Jobs is believed to bring? We’ll have to see, but he’s left behind a very solid team, including Jonathan Ive, the industrial designer of the iMac, iPad, iPhone, and iPad, Scott Forstall, the man behind Mac OS X and iOS – and Apple’s new CEO, Tim Cook.

Remember that globe-spanning manufacturing and logistics network – the one that miraculously allows Apple to undercut its competitors and produce new devices at volumes and profit margins that others can only dream of? It wasn’t created by Steve Jobs; it’s all Tim Cook.

Filed in: Technology News

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