What the summer portends in new tablets

Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon expected to launch new models in coming months

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Mainelli said the reports of a smaller iPad have credence. A smaller iPad, he said, "will help Apple gain traction in regions [like Japan] where the 9.7-in. tablet has been slower to take off because consumers think it's too big."

A smaller tablet would also enable Apple to offer a tablet at a lower price, possibly in the range of $299 to $349, while still maintaining to its historically high profit margins, Mainelli added.

"Once Apple owns every price point, from $299 to $829 [for the 64GB new iPad with Wi-Fi and 4G LTE connectivity], it's going to be very, very difficult for Android tablets and Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets to compete with Apple," Mainelli said.

Even today, Apple's prices have come down, with the 16GB, Wi-Fi-only iPad 2 model selling at $399, Mainelli added. That level of pricing is attractive to "cash-strapped consumers as well as educational buyers, who are embracing the iPad in a major way in some regions," he said.

By late summer, Microsoft is expected to make clear its plans for Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets, even if the devices don't ship until fall or later. Any announcement on that topic is expected to clarify whether Barnes & Noble and Microsoft, who recently became partners, will cooperate on a Windows tablet.

Also this summer, wireless carriers, such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T, are expected to provide more options for data packaging, where one monthly data plan would cover service across multiple devices, such as a tablet with a smartphone. That kind of data packaging could open up interest in LTE-ready tablets, offering the promise of faster video streaming and browsing.

Mainelli said Verizon is reported to be the first to offer such a data package. An AT&T executive at the CTIA conference also said tablets that combine Wi-Fi and LTE for an affordable price are in the planning stages. AT&T sold out of its Pantech Element tablet, a Wi-Fi-and-LTE device with a price tag of $399. Today, an iPad with LTE and Wi-Fi costs $130 more than a Wi-Fi-only model, not including the cost of a monthly service plan.

"Once carriers start offering the ability to use one data plan across multiple devices, then LTE on tablets become very interesting," Mainelli said.

In addition to whatever new tablets may be announced in the coming months, there are other notable tablets that we know will begin shipping over the summer. They include the Toshiba Excite, the largest tablet at 13.3 in. and 2.2 lbs. It will go on sale June 10, starting at $650 for a 32GB model. It runs Android 4.0 and uses an Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor.

While it's uncertain how well such a large tablet will sell, analysts agree that the Excite 13 is a sign of a fairly staggering amount of diversity in the tablet market.

More tablet info

The table below shows the most recently announced tablets as reported by Computerworld. Click a tablet's name in the leftmost column to read a news story or review with more information about the device, or view a larger table with more details about each product.

Table created by Computerworld staff using Zoho Creator.

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 email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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