We've been through Xooms, Galaxy Tabs, and PlayBooks. The hype comes. The "iPad killer" tag gets bandied about. The hype moves on to the next big name entrant.

Is that a TouchPad I see?

Well, no one is coming anywhere close to Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) and its iPad.

However, just because everybody has failed to make a dent in the tablet market doesn't mean Apple will corner this booming niche forever.

A legitimate threat is drawing closer, and things are about to get interesting.

A tablet by any other name
Kintab? Tabdle? We still don't have a name of Amazon.com's (Nasdaq: AMZN) inevitable tablet, but we know it's coming.

"Stay tuned," CEO Jeff Bezos hinted in May, and now chip analysts that have a pulse on component makers see the framework of an Amazon tablet inching its way toward production.

Canaccord Genuity analyst Bobby Burleson provided some color yesterday, passing on news that Amazon plans to build more than 1.5 million tablets this quarter, with as many as 5 million rolling off the assembly line by the end of the year.

Obviously there's a big difference between shipping out tablets and actually selling them. Just because Amazon makes 5 million of its rumored 10-inch tablets doesn't mean that it will be able to find 5 million interested buyers. However, can you picture any tech giants with tablets on the market eyeing that big an order for an unproven gadget?

Amazon can do it. Perhaps more importantly, Amazon can sell each and every one of those tablets.

What does Amazon have that Motorola Mobility (NYSE: MMI), Samsung, Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM), and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) do not? After all, these are companies that have years -- and in some cases, decades -- of experience building popular consumer electronics.

Isn't Amazon just an online retailer? Well, that's pretty much it. Amazon has the direct consumer reach that the hardware behemoths lack. It also knows how to work a hammer.

The market wasn't ready to give up books when Amazon introduced the Kindle in 2007. That didn't stop Amazon from hammering it home, featuring the Kindle prominently on its landing page, until skeptical bibliophiles became Kindle cradlers.  

Redefining the tablet market
Nobody needs a tablet. Those who want a tablet, in reality, desire an iPad. The mystique behind Apple's app ecosystem has carved out a market that is unique to the class act of Cupertino.

Apple doesn't want you to know the truth. It doesn't want you to realize that Steve Jobs' "magical" toy is really just a Margaritaville frozen drink maker. It's a novelty at first, but then it becomes something that you just whip out when guests come over.

Amazon is the company that can change that, just as it legitimized the e-reader market.

The inevitable tablet will obviously read digital books and stream digital music -- just like your iPad. However, it will also be a device to serve unlimited video streams to Amazon Prime subscribers at no additional cost. Can your tablet do that? Amazon will broker the deals with the content mavens that most tablet makers wouldn't dream approaching because it's already doing business with them through the country's largest online storefront.

Just wait until the holidays come around. A visit to Amazon.com to buy something else entirely will become an education on why you finally want -- and perhaps even need -- a tablet.

Take two tablets and call me in the morning
Amazon won't be the only winner here.

Burleson's report waxes favorably on NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA) and Atmel (Nasdaq: ATML), as he's hearing that Nvidia's Tegra chip and Atmel's maXTouch touchscreen controller will be part of Amazon's device. These may both be multi-billion-dollar companies, but playing a key role in what will easily be the market's second most popular tablet by year's end is a needle-moving event.

How far the gap will be between Apple and Amazon in the tablet realm really rests on Amazon at this point. Will it price it competitively? Will it find partners that can subsidize a chunk of the hardware? Will it market it as aggressively as it did the Kindle? Will it succeed in finally getting the country to realize why it needs a tablet in its living room and in its backpack?

The audience is waiting, Amazon. Let's get this show started.

Will you be buying an Amazon tablet? What would you convince you one way or the other? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.