Amazon just unveiled the Kindle Fire, a lower-priced entry into the tablet market that seems to be more e-reader than productivity tool. Add that to the Vizio tablet, which sports a more conventional Android interface, and tablet wars may be coming to a superstore near you.

Of course, it didn’t take Amazon to tell me that tablets are the next big thing.

Here are two stories, one business and one consumer, that illustrate this.

Exhibit 1: Potbelly rocks the lunch line.

In my experience, sandwich shops with long lines at lunch time are doing something right. By that measure, the Potbelly on 3rd Street, SW, is a pretty special place.

At the store near my home, you wait in line, order at the counter, and then wait again for your sandwich to come out of the heater before picking out your toppings.

Not the 3rd Street store.

This store has equipped an employee with a tablet, and he places orders about 10-15 customers back in the line. This means your sandwich is ready to customize when you reach the counter. It’s efficient, and it creates a more-seamless process. I’d go back there anytime.

Of course, the live music helps too.

Exhibit 2: My mom wants an iPad.

I’m going to push for a Galaxy Tab instead. But I digress…

Before my parents went off on a road trip last month, I started getting lots of questions about data rates and where she might be able to read her e-mail while out of town.

Then they stayed with friends who had a summer home equipped with wifi–and an iPad. And my mom not only checked her e-mail daily but also caught up on the news without being tethered to one place.

My mom is online regularly. She has a digital subscription to the New York Times, leaves comments on news sites and the occasional blog, watches videos on YouTube, skype[s] with her grandson, and even dipped one toe into Twitter. And she and my dad watched a recent presidential candidates’ debate online. But that’s all on a desktop computer.

Until now, she’s been comfortable with the Web as a destination. Now she wants the Web where she is.

Mobile matters, and I think tablets are going to be game changers. But what say you?

Photo by isawnyu (Flickr).

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