Will Amazon’s $200 tablet spark interest among schools?

The Kindle Fire, which runs Google Inc.’s Android software, is clearly meant for gobbling up Amazon’s digital media in particular. While most Android tablets include access to Google’s Android Market for downloading games and apps, the Fire will eschew that in favor of Amazon’s own app store.

And while the tablet doesn’t have much storage space—8 gigabytes, compared with 16 GB on the cheapest iPad—Amazon is offering users free web-based storage for any digital content they buy from Amazon.

Another weapon in Amazon’s arsenal: In hopes of keeping Kindle Fire users purchasing both digital and physical items, the tablet includes a free month of Amazon’s premium shipping service, Amazon Prime.

Prime, which costs $79 per year, gives users unlimited two-day shipping on any items they buy from Amazon, as well as free access to a library of 11,000 streaming movies and TV shows. This is about half of what Netflix Inc.’s streaming library has.

Amazon has never said precisely how many Kindle eReaders it has sold, but its higher sales of eBooks than print books indicates it’s a strong performer. Given this, and the general popularity of tablets, expectations are high for the Fire.

Rubin thinks consumers will become fans of the tablet, saying it offers a more complete media consumption experience than what Barnes & Noble has provided with the Nook Color, which came out last year.

Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps thinks Amazon could sell as many as 5 million Fires by the end of the year, but thinks it will probably be closer to 3 million because it’s coming out so late. Apple, by comparison, has sold nearly 29 million iPads since it released the first one in April 2010, and more than 9 million in the June quarter alone.

In addition to being the new tablet on the block, the Kindle Fire faces other challenges.

On the content side, the Amazon Appstore currently includes more than 16,000 apps, but this is just a small fraction of the 425,000 apps in Apple’s App Store, more than 100,000 of which are tailored specifically for the iPad. On the tablet side, the device’s screen is on the small side, which means less space for watching movies and more panning around when surfing the web.

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