Apple and Amazon gear up to invade each other’s tablet turf

July 26, 2012

The biggest source of speculation is whether Apple will release a so-called iPad Mini, a smaller version of the best-selling iPad expected to have a screen-size of 7.85-inches versus the current model’s 9.7-inches. 

But even as Apple considers going smaller, here comes the rumor mill with the next thing from Amazon — a bigger Kindle Fire.

Jeff Bezos’ company is said to be readying a 10-inch version of the Kindle Fire that will more directly compete with the iPad.

Naturally, neither company is talking, but I’ll take the odds that Amazon will strike first because it’s facing more immediate competition in it’s low-cost wheelhouse from Google’s new $199 7-inch Nexus 7. Amazon is rumored to be readying several new devices including a revamped 7-inch Kindle Fire, the 10-inch model and even the first Amazon smartphone. 

If it releases a 10-inch tablet, Amazon will essentially be saying, “Yes Apple, you’re right, bigger is better,” but also likely saying, “and so is cheaper.” 

It seems inconceivable Amazon would take on the iPad with a similarly-priced model given the ecommerce giant is more interested in selling goods online than making money on hardware.

A price of $299 would be $100 less than the iPad 2, perhaps enough to attract significant numbers of would be price conscious iPad buyers. And rather than just hype movie downloads, Amazon could leverage its cloud services, and partner with a few key app providers, to offer road warriors a tablet worth considering. 

iPad Mini? Apple plays it coy 

As for Apple, CEO Tim Cook didn’t confirm or deny Apple will release a smaller iPad this fall as many expect it to, but he was emphatic that Apple won’t make a cheap device just because it can. 

“Our North Star is to work maniacally on making the world’s best products and not deviate from that,” Cook said in this week’s earnings call.

Meanwhile, Gartner VP of consumer devices Carolina Milanesi has one of the better conspiracy theories as to how Apple could release an ‘iPad Mini’, but stick to the Steve Jobs doctrine that 7-inch tablets are by definition a lousy user experience. 

She thinks Apple could keep the current iPad line rolling and shake up the iPod Touch line by adding a 7-inch model. Is it an iPad? Nope, it’s a WiFi-only, 7-inch iPod Touch for say $299 that will run most iPad software. 

It won’t be the best iPad, but it’ll be the best iPod Touch Apple’s ever made and sure to be a hit. 

Regardless of what it calls its next device, I’m with the camp that says Apple can’t let the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7’s of the world gobble up the low end of the device market. 

We hit a similar inflection point a few year back when everyone was clamoring for Apple to do a netbook. Jobs sniffed that the netbook was simply a cheaper, less powerful notebook that didn’t add value. 

Rather than respond in kind, Apple brought a new value proposition to the low end of the portable device market with the introduction of the iPad.  

Conversely, I suspect Amazon’s 10-inch tablet will be more of a netbook response to the iPad, not as good, but a helluva deal. 

Is that a good or bad strategy? Yes. 

Seriously, the market clearly will decide. But just as we saw cheaper PC clones eat away at the IBM PC’s dominant share of the personal computer market decades ago, don’t be surprised if an inexpensive, bigger Kindle Fire does quite well. 

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