SciTechTalk: Tablet wars heat up

By JIM ALGAR, United Press International  |  Sept. 9, 2012 at 6:31 AM
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When unveiled its new family of more powerful tablet computers last week, they painted a large bulls-eye on Apple, its all-powerful iPad and its nearly 60 percent hold on the tablet computer market.

Make no mistake, war has been declared.

The first battlefront will be prices.

Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos introduced three versions of high-definition Kindle Fire tablets, costing $199 to $599, including a model that includes 4G capability, providing a connection whenever there is a wireless signal and 32 gigabytes of memory at $499, $230 cheaper than Apple's corresponding 4G iPad.

Amazon followed up by lobbing a data package shell towards Apple, introducing a plan for Kindle Fire tablets that includes 250 megabytes per month for $49.99 a year.

Apple charges $14.99 a month, about $180 a year, for a comparable plan.

Price has been one of Amazon's main weapons since it entered the tablet market last year with the original Kindle Fire for $199.

In Friday's unveiling, Amazon announced the original Fire will still be available but has dropped the price to $159.

While two of Amazon's new tablets sport 8.9-inch screens -- the Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Fire HD 4G -- and are direct competitors for the iPad and its 9.7-inch screen, it is the smaller 7-inch-screen Kindle Fire HD, a high-resolution version of the original Fire, that may feature prominently as Amazon and other tablet makers go toe-to-toe with Apple.

Why? Because it's a pre-emptive strike at an Apple product that doesn't even exist yet -- the rumored but "almost-confirmed" iPad Mini.

Rumors and leaked photos of parts suggest Apple is about to release a 7-inch version of the iPad.

It was first thought it might be introduced at the same time as the upcoming new iPhone, expected Sept. 12, but most analysts now expect Apple will give it its own introduction some time in October.

No coincidence, then, that Amazon says the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD will be available Sept. 14.

It will join a number of 7-inch tablets from manufacturers like Google, Samsung and Dell, who saw the smaller form factor as a way to enter the tablet fray without having to go head-to-head with Apple and its larger iPad.

Steve Jobs, the late Apple leader, famously came out against a smaller iPad in 2010, saying smaller tablets would offer just a fraction of the screen size of a 10-inch tablet and not offer much over the smartphones most tablet buyers already possessed.

"The reason we [won't] make a 7-inch tablet isn't because we don't want to hit [a lower] price point," Jobs said. "It's because we think the screen is too small to express the software. As a software driven company, we think about the software strategies first."

But consumers have seemed happy enough to consider that price point and sales of tablets in the 7-inch range have picked up, leading Apple to reconsider and (almost certainly) commit itself to an iPad mini.

Which makes Amazon's 7-inch Kindle Fire HD, with its high-resolution screen, stereo speakers and front facing camera, a shot across the bow in advance of Apple's expected October iPad Mini volley.

And the war goes on.

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