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November 2, 2012

What growing tablet market means for gadget-lovers

This holiday season is turning into a battle among tech giants for the hand-held computer that every tech geek, executive, student and child will be carrying around next year.

Analysts expect tablets to be a top gift this year, as the appeal of the devices grows to a wider audience looking to move up from e-readers or down from laptops. It will probably be a make-or-break few months for new market entrants, including Best Buy, Barnes & Noble and Google, as consumers wade through the myriad choices.

When Apple first introduced the iPad in 2010, it wasn't clear whether tablets — occupying a strange space between the smartphone and the laptop — were here to stay. But now analysts predict sales of at least 117 million tablets by the end of the 2012, the majority of which are expected to occur during the final quarter of the year. Fifteen percent of tablet buyers told the Maritz Research firm that, if given the chance, they would purchase a tablet before buying a computer, smartphone or even a television, making it a potential all-in-one replacement device.

"People coming in at this point are a wide cross section of society. They held back initially to see if it was a fad but are now seeing these devices everywhere they go," said Rhoda Alexander, a tech analyst at IHS iSuppli.

The rising interest means there are tablets aimed at all segments of the market — from the business-like Microsoft Surface with a full keyboard on its cover to the Toys R Us Tabeo, meant for children as young as 5.

Apple added two tablets to its lineup last week — a revamped full iPad and a more portable iPad mini. Google announced two new tablets Monday, an updated version of its Nexus 7 and a larger, 10-inch tablet. Meanwhile, Amazon has expanded its line of low-cost Kindle Fires, and retailers Barnes & Noble and Best Buy now have their own offerings. That doesn't include companies such as Samsung, Asus, Lenovo — all of whom who are taking a second crack at the market.

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