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Menage á tablet: Apple vs Amazon vs Google

The three-way fight for the 7in form-factor

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Analysis The new tablet battleground is the seven-incher. The biggest names in the business are lining up to fight it out for dominance: Google, Amazon and Apple.

It's Apple's focus on larger formats that has depressed the 7in tablet market to date - or at least until Amazon shipped the Kindle Fire late last year.

Samsung's 7in Galaxy Tab was an early bright light, but it failed to illuminate the shadow cast by the 9.7in iPad. Later 7in tablets from many of the best-known names in computer hardware have failed to yank buyers' attention away from larger tablets.

Even RIM's BlackBerry Playbook didn't prompt a big shift from larger 9-10in tablets to the smaller, more pocketable form-factor.

The Kindle Fire changed that, but it's effect was limited by Amazon's decision to restrict sales to the US. There, the Fire initially did very well, timed as it was to tap into the 2011 Holiday gift-giving season and priced to sell.

The $199 Fire is undoubtedly the inspiration for Google's Nexus 7, a 7in tablet that is not only out to beat the Fire in physical terms - a fast Tegra 3 CPU, a higher resolution display, a sleeker design - but to pitch Google Play as a viable alternative to Amazon's content selling system.

Popularising the 7in form-factor

Both tablets are less about providing a new, useful mobile computing platform as being on-the-go shopfronts for each firm's online retail outlets.

Google has dropped hints about the Nexus 7 at various points during the year, and spec leaks have come thick and fast too. But even without them, Amazon would have been preparing a smarter follow-up to the slab-like Fire.

The latest whispers have it due for announcement and/or release this August, though an earlier introduction - especially if Amazon plans to finally make the Fire available outside the US - would be more sensible, allowing the company to tap into Europe's big summer holiday period.

Reports suggest the new one will the thinner - well, you don't say… - which will up production costs, making it harder for Amazon to hit the $199 price point. A better assembled display, to eliminate the gap between the touchpanel and the LCD beneath, will add $10 to Amazon's manufacturing costs, DigiTimes reports industry insiders as claiming.

Amazon's model is surely predicated on offering the Fire as a loss-leader to encourage content sales which bring in the real money, so it's probably less concerned about extra costs here as ensuring rival offerings - step forward, Nexus 7 - don't eat into its own sales.

It also needs to get in quickly before Apple makes a play and releases a 7in device that would surely extinguish the current Kindle Fire.

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