Joseph Thomas

It sickens me deeply to see stores like Kohl’s and Costco having Christmas Trees up already. Nonetheless, as we enter Q4 2012, the holiday shopping season is upon us – whether we like it or not. Like last year – and the year before that – tablets will take center stage. Unlike last year, this year brought us a crop of highly qualified, competitive tablets to take on the iPad.

Who’s Buying Tablets?

While it may seem like everyone and their mother has tablets, there is still a good percentage of the population who doesn’t. Tech reporters – myself included – think everyone who wants a tablet by now has one. But, being in the Silicon Valley, our views are skewed. Many people have waited for the second wave of budget tablets, such as Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire HD.

Furthermore, studies are showing tablet adoption in households is on the rise, with multiple family members owning their own device. With these inexpensive devices on the market, parents could spread some of the tablet joy to their offspring. Alternatively, it isn’t uncommon for someone to own a full-featured tablet – err the iPad 3 – and a more portable, 7-inch tablet like the Nexus 7.

Microsoft Surface RT

Despite my addiction to Apple products, the Microsoft Surface RT is an intriguing product. While it is very late in the tablet game, the demo Microsoft presented this summer wasn’t the old Microsoft we once knew. The product looks – at least from afar – competitive and durable. Execution, though, is everything. Once the tablet is officially unveiled alongside Windows 8, we should have a better idea of whether Microsoft was bluffing.

The Surface RT would be a fabulous device for Corporate Zombies looking for a work-friendly tablet. While so-called “startups” may embrace Apple and iPads in the enterprise, traditional, cubicle-ridden dungeons don’t. Your iPad is largely useless in the office, used primarily to play Angry Birds or watch movies when your boss isn’t looking.

Apple iPad Mini

By now, you’ve likely heard the rumors about Apple’s supposedly “mini” iPad. If the company wants to stay competitive, they will release the iPad Mini before the holiday shopping season is in full force. Users have shown an interest – and demand – for such a product. It would be downright foolish for Apple to not release such a product.

Pricing, however; will be key for Apple’s success in this new market. If Cupertino insists on releasing a $299 7-inch iPad, it will fail. And it will fail hard. Not because it isn’t a good device, but because the market leaders in this category already set the pricing. Consumers aren’t that stupid, to spend an extra $100 for the Apple logo and build. But sadly, part of me thinks they would.

Kindle Fire HD 8.9

Amazon definitely one-upped Apple with their latest Kindle Fire HD 8.9 tablet. The device, simply put, is amazing – for the price. At $299, it is nearly half as much as the entry-level iPad. Given that it’s Amazon’s second-generation product, the Kindle user experience is likely to be solid. The Seattle-based company has taken great strides to expand their multimedia and app offerings, competing directly with Apple’s iTunes App Store.

Considering the poorly built, underpowered original Kindle Fire flew off the shelves last year during the holiday shopping season, imagine how this Fire will sell. It’s much more innovative and desirable compared to previous models. Plus, consumers aren’t necessarily sacrificing anything in contrast to the iPad. The Fire HD has a similar Retina display screen, dual-core processor, and ecosystem of content (apps, games, movies, and music). Based on the price alone, it’s a no brainer for most.

What Are You Buying?

Are you in the market for a new – or second – tablet this holiday season? Tell us what you’re looking to buy and get inspired by others.