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by Scott Johnson Sprint 4G Rollout Updates Thursday, March 15, 2012 - 12:51 PM MDT The 7 inch form factor for the tablet PC was largely understated up until the Kindle Fire’s release last year. There were the expensive high end Android offerings from Samsung, Dell, Acer, Toshiba and HTC as well as the Blackberry Playbook. The inexpensive end was headlined by the Kindle Fire, Barnes and Noble Nook and Lenovo. Sales were underwhelming, until the Kindle Fire caught everyone’s attention and sold millions of units. Now, we have what may be shaping up to be a faceoff between iOS and Android in the 7 inch tablet market. The idea of an offering smaller than the 10 inch tablet may have been dancing in Apple and Google’s heads prior to the Fire being released, but it would seem that they didn’t pull the trigger on those plans until after seeing how the $200 Kindle Fire did in the marketplace. Apple is rumored to be releasing a tablet in a size between the 3.5 inch size of the iPod touch and the 9.7 inch iPad. Some say that the reasoning behind Apple’s puzzling move to ditch the numerical model designation of the new iPad is so that they can simplify the tablet line and release an iPad mini, with naming conventions similar to their line of iPods using generations instead of numeric model numbers. Current rumors have Apple releasing a 7.85 inch tablet with a price point under $300 for the base model. The bezel is also rumored to be shrunk down to increase the portability of the unit. Apple rarely makes bad decisions when it comes to what components to insert in their devices, so it is safe to say this would be a device of “the highest quality.” We could see this “iPad mini” as early as 3rd quarter 2012. Situated on the opposite end is the latest offering in Google’s Nexus line of devices. It was recently confirmed by industry sources that Asus will manufacture a 7 inch Android tablet with the Nexus designation. This tablet would see a price point between $150 and $250 and be constructed of premium components. Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt was quoted stating that the tablet would be “of the highest quality.” This tablet is rumored to be hitting shelves as early as May, giving it a slight head start on its competition from Apple. Another competitor in the game will be Samsung, which has built a reputation for releasing high quality devices. They may have something in the works that would integrate the “S Pen” stylus present in the Galaxy Note and the Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet they revealed at CES 2012. Samsung would be smart to recognize the trend in the 7 inch tablet market and keep their offering in the $300 or less range if they want to be competitive. They have to be careful with this as they don't want to undercut sales of their Galaxy Note phone/tablet. The last competitor in this battle for 7 inch tablet supremacy could come from Nokia. With Microsoft bringing their Windows Phone 8 integration of phone and desktop operating systems to market this year, it would only make sense that they would include it on tablets as well. If they intend on moving into contention with Android and iOS, they can’t afford to miss a “battle” as this could turn out to be. To be competitive in this battle, they would be wise to offer a 7 inch tablet in the under $250 price range. Given the ability of WP 7.5 to run fast and smooth on hardware that appears on paper to be underwhelming, they should be able to hit that price point. This summer is looking to be a battle of heavyweight 7 inch tablets at a price lower than we may be used to for high end, well outfitted tablets. Will they see the sales numbers they are looking for? Or did the Kindle Fire snap up all the budget-minded tablet buyers, leaving these tablets out in the cold? If you were in the market for a 7 inch tablet, which tablet would interest you the most? Sources: Digitimes Rethink Wireless