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The tablet wars are definitely getting hotter. Microsoft started taking orders for its Surface tablet, without its innovative cover/keyboard, for $499. The entry-level RT sold out in pre-order. An expert interviewed by Computerworld was nonplussed by the early demand:

"’The entry-level product includes no typing solution and is pretty transparently an opening price point gambit," said Stephen Baker, an analyst with the NPD Group. "But there's no way to know how many people bought, or didn't buy, one of the covers."

In other words, Baker continued, don't read too much into either the backorder or the fact that the two covers are still available.

Even so, he was surprised that Microsoft offered a cover-less Surface RT. "To some extent, without a [Touch or Type] Cover, then the Surface is just another tablet," Baker said. "With a cover, it's both a consumption and creation device.’"

Baker wonders if that wasn’t the wrong strategy, since TV commercials for the tablet emphasize that cool cover.

Meanwhile, prices continue to head south. CNET is reporting that Google plans to launch a $99 7-inch tablet this quarter—a potentially disruptive price point, especially if launched during the holiday shopping period. Taiwanese manufacturer will be tapped to build the bargain-basement Nexus, which currently sells for $199.

Amazon has upped the ante on another front. The company announced “Whispercast” to let organizations manage fleets of Kindles. Tell me this list of management features doesn’t sound corporate:

  • “Centrally manage your Kindles from whispercast.amazon.com.
  • Save valuable time registering your Kindles—no more need to manually configure each Kindle one at a time for your users.
  • Provide Internet access by sending your wireless network and proxy settings to your Kindles so they can seamlessly connect to your network and safely browse the web.
  • Protect your information by requiring a password on your Kindles if desired.
  • Control how your Kindles are used with the ability to block Facebook and Twitter integration, web browsing, and content purchasing.
  • Keep your Kindle yours by blocking factory reset and device deregistration on Kindles you give your users.”

Then again, it could be my imagination: in press interviews, Amazon points reporters towards Whispercast’s utility for classrooms. Either way, I think it’s a good sign. I love my Kindle Fire, and while it’s not as chic and sleek as my iPad, it’s a great device and at $159, you can’t beat the price.  I think the smaller form factor is a winner and that there is a real market here.

Apple apparently agrees. The company has summoned reporters to an event on October 23, and everyone expects a new smaller iPad to be announced. In fact, evidence of Apple’s interest in the 7-inch market recently surfaced in the Samsung-Apple trial in this memo from an Apple executive:


We’ve even see some leaked pictures:


Bring it. I think the smaller tablet is great for more than just reading in bed. The compact model could be great for manuals for field service. Combine them with a service like Whispercast, and you can be sure they’ll always be updated. Get ready, enterprise IT, the mini’s are coming.