Give Me an iPad Mini for Christmas

How Apple, Amazon and Google will compete for your holiday shopping dollars.

Are you ready to have your computing world rocked again? Two weeks ago, Seattle-based e-tail leviathan Amazon sent out an announcement that rightly sent tremors throughout the publishing and consumer electronics worlds: It would be holding a press event on September 6th in Santa Monica.

The invite, which has made the rounds on the Internet, is vague—even by the standards of tech event announcements. But the consensus among the techblogerati is that there’s a new Kindle Fire on the way. It would be deeply surprising if that weren’t the case. It’s easy to forget that it’s been not quite a year since Amazon unveiled the first Kindle Fire, the tablet computer cousin to Amazon’s Kindle e-reading devices, and the diminutive (seven-inch), budget-priced ($200) challenger to Apple’s bigger (10-inch), pricier ($500 and up) category-defining iPad.

And since that announcement—which precluded Barnes & Noble’s leap into the tabletsphere with a comparable Nook device—we had a holiday season that flipped the publishing and gadget worlds on their heads. Between November 2011 and January 2012 the number of Americans reading ebooks and owning e-reading devices grew rapidly, and there was a sea change from a society where owning a tablet was something fancypeople did to one where just about anyone might.

If all that upheaval was about all you could stand, hold on to your hat: It’s all about to get nuttier. The upcoming holiday season device bonanza (yes, we’re now obliged to start thinking about that in September) will also include:

• A well-received, July-released budget seven-inch tablet from Google (the Nexus 7) that, according to reviews, doesn’t perform like a budget tablet. Google’s Nexus 7 (manufactured by Asus) runs Google’s Android operating system (so does the Kindle Fire, but it’s a stripped-down version), and Google has merged its music, movie, books, magazine and app retailing operations into the streamlined “Google Play,” a one-stop digital content shop. (A version of the device that supports 3G is reportedly en route.)

• The rumored Kindle Fire 2 which, not for nothing, has reportedly dropped Google’s ubiquitous mapping apps for Nokia’s. There are also rumors afloat that Amazon is working on a two-sided tablet, which would include an LCD screen on one side for computing or nighttime functionality, and an e-ink screen on the other for easier reading of novels and reading in sunlight. We’ll know more on September 6th.

• Apple’s long-awaited iPhone 5, which will reportedly be announced next week, September 12th and released on September 21st.

• Apple’s long-rumored miniature iPad, after months of denials that the company was working on a device to compete in the smaller world of the Kindle Fire, Nook Tablet and Google Nexus 7. The company’s change of heart—it had seemed reluctant to slum with the Android crowd, likely the residue of Steve Jobs’s bloodlust for the Android OS—was likely spurred by the aforementioned device’s brisk business, as Apple is allegedly prepping for a second blockbuster unveiling in October, this time of its iPad “Mini” (which hopefully will not re-spark these jokes.)

• And the door is still open for Kobo (the Canadian e-reader/tablet company that just reached an agreement to sell devices and e-books through independent bookstores) and Barnes and Noble (which just announced its Nook will be entering the U.K. market) and Microsoft (which just partnered with Barnes and Noble, and which is prepping to release its Surface tablet) to make some noise in the space.

All of which is to say that in a few short years, we’ve gone from people making iTampon jokes and Steve Jobs predicting the demise of the Kindle because “people don’t read anymore” to people fretting over which lean-back computing/reading device is right for them.

I, personally, have seen my household go from zero such devices to three (a Nook Simple Touch, which I love; the new iPad, which I adore; and my previously luddite fiance’s new Kindle Touch, which she’s in love with).

All of which means we’re all looking at a further, deeper shift in the way we consume books, magazines and all other manner of content. It should be exciting news for consumers, and a wild ride for publishers, libraries, bookstores, newsstands and anyone else dealing in printed material. Though I wonder how many people, kinda like me, have just figured out which of last year’s devices to drop a few c-notes on, and will be sitting this round out completely (not that I’m not a little bit tempted to drop a hundred on that newish Nook that glows).