Amazon expected to ship 1.2M of its mystery tablets in Q3

Report from tablet component makers indicates Amazon tablet would be largest of non-iPad tablets

Amazon.com is expected to ship up to 1.2 million tablet computers by the end of September, making it the biggest of the non-iPad tablet suppliers in the third quarter, according to a new report in DigiTimes.

Citing unnamed tablet PC component suppliers, Taiwan-based DigiTimes also said that Amazon is expected to order as many as 2 million touch-panel displays from suppliers in the August-September period.

The prediction for Amazon tablet sales is surprising, because the online retailer hasn't announced a tablet and has thus far focused on selling its low-cost, black-and-white Kindle e-readers. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

Rumors have circulated that Amazon is prepping two tablet models, code-named Coyote and Hollywood, which would both be powered by Nvidia processors. The tech website BGR said the entry-level Coyote would have a dual-core Tegra 2 chip, while the more powerful Hollywood would be equipped with a quadcore T30 Kal-El processor, which would offer 500% better performance than the Tegra 2.

Nvidia showed a prototype tablet running the quadcore Kal-El in late May before the Computex trade show in Taipei.

The Tegra 2 is used in the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the LG Optimus and the Asus Transformer tablet computers.

If Amazon enters the tablet market, it would join a crowded field led by the Apple iPad. The DigiTimes report said Apple will take delivery of 14 million to 15 million iPads from Foxconn Electronics in the third quarter, up from 10.5 million to 11 million in the second quarter.

Other vendors' tablets, most of which run the Android mobile operating system, would account for 6 million to 7 million of the tablets sold in the third quarter, according to DigiTimes. The website didn't calculate how many Samsung Galaxy Tabs would ship in the third quarter, but it said the Acer Iconia Tab A500 would be behind Amazon's, at up to 900,000 units shipped.

Meanwhile, DigiTimes said Motorola Xoom shipments would reach 400,000 for the quarter, the Dell Streak would see sales of up to 250,000 units, and sales of the HTC Flyer could be as high as 450,000 units. The report didn't calculate shipments for the HP TouchPad, which runs the WebOS operating system.

One analyst, IDC's Bob O'Donnell, said Amazon "has something in the works, but the question is whether it will be a true tablet or something that competes with the color Barnes & Noble Nook."

The Nook is classified as an e-reader but it has a browser, runs Android and has other attributes that bring it closer to a tablet. It sells for $249, which is half the price of most tablets, O'Donnell noted. Nook's lower price helped it take the lead in the e-reader market for the first time in the first quarter, IDC reported Friday. O'Donnell said the Nook accounted for about one-third of the 3.3 million e-readers shipped in the first quarter, but he wouldn't share specific numbers.

"We don't know for sure what Amazon is doing, and they've been very quiet," O'Donnell said.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J.Gold Associates, said Amazon is rumored to be replacing the e-ink display in its Kindle with an LCD display and equipping the device with an Android operating system instead of proprietary software.

Gold said the projection of 1.2 million Amazon tablet shipments in the third quarter reported in DigiTimes "could make sense," given how successful Amazon has been in the past with the Kindle.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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