Microsoft and Apple Bet Big on Tablets for the Holidays

This holiday shopping season, you can expect tablets to stuff many a stocking. The mobile devices will likely be at the top of numerous wish lists, so you may need to get a bigger stocking. Judging by various recent reports, it looks like gadget makers are prepping for a big quarter.

According to CNET, researcher IDC is estimating that Microsoft (NAS: MSFT) is planning on building upwards of 3 million units this year of its unveiled, but not yet launched, Surface tablet, including both the traditional Intel (NAS: INTC) variety, as well as those sporting ARM Holdings (NAS: ARMH) -based chips. That's a lot of units, more than the software giant would be able to sell through its first-party Microsoft stores, meaning it'll probably tap third-party retailers and go for a wide distribution channel.

Pricing for the Surface tablet remains unknown, much like a lot of other details about the device, but most analysts are expecting it to start around $600. If the estimates turn out accurate, 3 million units is a big bet from Microsoft to sell in the fourth quarter. For some context, Research In Motion (NAS: RIMM) has only shipped a cumulative total of 1.6 million PlayBook tablets over five quarters, and Google's Motorola Mobility subsidiary took a whole year to sell 1 million. That means that Microsoft is hoping to sell more tablets in one quarter than RIM and Motorola, combined, sold in over more than a year.

With the expected launch of Apple's (NAS: AAPL) 7.85-inch iPad Mini coming up within the next couple months, dubious Digitimes, and its usual questionable sources, are pegging production at 4 million per month, starting in September. The report expects an October launch for the device that should carry a display resolution similar to the iPad 2. Its sources say small production runs of the smaller tablet have already begun, with monthly production in the hundreds of thousands.

This estimate sounds a bit too high, even for Apple, although it's certainly possible. That translates to 12 million iPad Minis per quarter, not including the existing model, and would be more iPad Minis alone than regular iPads sold in the first quarter this year. Last holiday quarter, Apple sold 15.4 million iPads. If Apple doubled that this year, we'd be looking at over 30 million total iPad units. The company could potentially hit 30 million with the assistance of a lower-priced iPad Mini.

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