The iPad Killers Are Finally Coming

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Let's not get too cocky, Cupertino.

It's certainly true that Apple's (NAS: AAPL) iPad has been the undisputed champ in its space, downing more tablets than a bachelor party cracking open a Tylenol bottle after a Vegas bender. We've seen Tabs, Xooms, PlayBooks, and TouchPads come and go -- right into the clearance bin.

However, things are about to get interesting.

Attack of the booksellers
I was invited to attend an Amazon.com (NAS: AMZN) press conference at Stage 37 in New York City come Wednesday morning. I can't make it. I'll be 1,285 miles away.

It's going to be a historic moment. There is little doubt about this being the introduction of Amazon's tablet.

"Stay tuned," was CEO Jeff Bezos' tease when asked about an Amazon-branded tablet five months ago. It will be a reality soon.

We also can't forget about Barnes & Noble (NYS: BKS) . The meandering bookseller has a surprising hit with the Nook, with the company claiming a quarter of the e-reader market earlier this year. It's no Kindle, but it's clearly not a flop. Barnes & Noble's e-reader family may also be expecting. A source tells The Digital Reader blog that the bookstore chain is readying a more tablet-like gadget than its entry-level Nook and the more versatile Nook Color, to hit the market next month. The source is pricing the new Nook - code-named Acclaim -- at $349. Rumors have been placing the Amazon tablet in the same ballpark, and possibly as cheap as $299 for a seven-inch model.

Turning the page
There are plenty of nondescript Android-fueled tablets selling for less than the iPad's $499 starting point, but the more prolific releases haven't been able to price their gadgetry for less.

Well, at least not initially.

We already saw how Hewlett-Packard's (NYS: HPQ) TouchPad sold briskly at $99, proving that pricing can be a game changer. Research In Motion (NAS: RIMM) conceded earlier this month that PlayBook prices were likely to drop given sluggish sales.

Apple is selling more than two thirds of the tablets in this country for a reason. When folks say that they want a tablet, what they're really saying is that they want an iPad2. Despite Android's thriving smartphone presence and developer-friendly app marketplace, there's only one App Store.

HP and RIM tried to woo the gadget-hungry with differentiated operating systems, but that strategy turned out to be more of a liability than a marketing advantage. If readily available Android is struggling to make a dent against Apple's iOS, what kind of chance does webOS or QNX have?

However, let's not assume that price cuts will be the end of HP and RIM here. They can afford to subsidize the tablets at lower price points because they have already invested so much in the operating systems. We can't count either company out, until they truly bow out.

The next chapter for booksellers
It's not just HP and RIM that don't need to turn a profit on their tablets. Unlike most of the Android-peppered introductions over the past year and change, Amazon and Barnes & Noble have more than just the one-time sale of electronics to model in their pricing strategies.

Barnes & Noble knows that a more full-bodied Nook than its $249 Nook Color will translate into even more e-book and publication sales. We also can't forget that Barnes & Noble once owned GameStop (NYS: GME) before spinning off the video game retailer several years ago. Back in April, GameStop revealed that it was exploring an entry into this niche with a gaming tablet. What if this $349 "Acclaim" device is the brainchild of both retailers? What if we're about to see a tablet that appeals to both gamers and bibliophiles?

We don't even need to guess when it comes to Amazon's advantages here. Nobody wanted an e-reader until Amazon devoted prime front-page real estate on its leading e-tail site for Kindle promotion. Amazon has also spent the past few years building up its digital vault when it comes to books, videos, music, and games. Armed with a proven and bountiful server farm, Amazon's been ramping up its cloud-computing platform and digital lockers. It is in a sweet position to eat into the unrest at Netflix (NAS: NFLX) with its unlimited streaming of thousands of titles, made available to Prime loyalty shopping members at no additional cost. An Amazon tablet will be weak when it comes to apps, but it's going to be a beast in terms of portable multimedia. In short, an Amazon tablet will be in the best "move-in condition" that the industry has ever seen of any rollout.

Cheaper tablets? Differentiated offerings?

Check that swagger at the door, Cupertino.

If you want to see how the tablet wars play out heading into the holidays, consider addingBarnes & Noble,Amazon.com, orAppleto My Watchlist.

At the time this article was published The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Research In Motion, and GameStop.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Apple, Netflix, and Amazon.com.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended writing covered calls in GameStop; creating a bull call spread position in Apple; and creating a bear put spread position in Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story, except for HP and Netflix. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

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