More shoppers drawn to cheaper, smaller Kindle Fire over iPad, survey says

Still, iPad expected to far outsell all other tablets

More than three times as many shoppers for tablet computers are considering the $199 Amazon Kindle Fire over the bestselling iPad, according to a new survey.

An online Retrevo survey of more than 1,000 Americans in October found that 44% would consider the 7-in. Kindle Fire over 12% favoring the 9.7-in. iPad, starting at $499. Another 44% said they "didn't know enough about the Amazon tablet."

The Kindle Fire starts shipping to buyers Tuesday, while the Barnes & Noble $249 Nook Tablet will be available later next week. The survey by Retrevo, an electronics shopping and review website, was conducted before the Nook Tablet was announced.

The iPad first launched in April 2010 and the iPad 2 launched in March of 2011, with total sales now at more than 35 million.

The iPad and iPad 2 have held a huge lead over all other tablets, hitting the market far earlier and retaining more than 60% of the market globally, according to IDC and other analysts.

Still, Retrevo noted that the lower price and smaller size of the Kindle Fire attracted buyer interest over the iPad. "With this [44%] 'acceptance' of a smaller tablet and the large price difference, conditions seem right for the Amazon Fire to become a hot item this year," Retrevo said.

Retrevo added that the $249 Nook Tablet "could also be an attractive alternative to an iPad."

Retrevo's survey also indicated that even current iPad owners might want a smaller, lighter tablet such as the Kindle Fire, Nook Tablet, or a future, smaller iPad.

Retrevo attempted to further explain the strong interest in Kindle Fire by noting "the iPad 2 is starting to show its age," adding: "Amazon may also benefit from the timing of their tablet. With the iPad 2 nearly a year old and the iPad 3 rumored to not be available until next year (missing the holiday season), Amazon may have timed the launch of their tablet just right."

Amazon expects the Kindle Fire to be popular, reportedly increasing manufacturing orders to 5 million units by the end of 2011, according to DigiTimes.

Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps estimated that Amazon will sell 3 million to 5 million Kindle Fire tablets in the fourth quarter, while Barnes & Noble will sell 1.5 million to 2 million Nook Tablets over the same period.

But Apple, which sold a record 11.1 million iPads in the third quarter, could sell 20 million worldwide in the fourth quarter, Epps said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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