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Android points the way for small tablets

Google's mobile OS has a pretty good handle on the small tablet market. Does Apple need to be there too?

Google's Nexus 7 tablet. Android is saturating the small tablet market with inexpensive designs.
Google's Nexus 7 tablet. Android is saturating the small tablet market with inexpensive designs. CNET

So, a small, inexpensive Apple tablet-like device could/maybe/possibly be in the works. If true, this may be a market better suited to Android.

NPD DisplaySearch analyst Richard Shim told me yesterday that he thinks a small Apple tablet is being planned. (And mainstream reports followed suit. )

Is this really all that likely? Just a cheaper, smaller iPad? That's not a Jobsian approach given the way he felt about a smaller tablet device (and the way Cook has dissed "limited function" tablets in the past).

Granted, Jobs isn't running the show there anymore but I still don't see what it gets Apple aside from stanching the flow of small Android tablets.

I (and presumably millions of other people) have been using the 7-inch Kindle Fire since late last year. It's a great deal for $199, offering the basics that satisfy a lot of non-techie consumers: a good e-mail app, fast browser, Kindle reader, good movie viewer (I quit Netflix and went with Amazon's service). And it has a good display, to boot.

(In fact, its customized Android 2.3 is faster and more stable than Android 3.2.2 on my overpriced 10-inch Motorola Xyboard, aka, Xoom 2 -- but I digress.)

The point is that Amazon, along with Samsung and its 7-inch sub-$250 Galaxy Tab (among other Android 7-inch tablets), are offering good value already.

Then, of course, we have the $199 Google Nexus 7, which got an Editor's Choice rating from CNET Reviews.

Though I don't have one (yet), an analyst who I spoke with yesterday (who wishes to remain anonymous because he doesn't want to be seen endorsing a product), has been wowed by the Nexus 7 and thinks it comes reasonably close to doing what his (pricier) iPad does.

Which brings us back to Apple. It already offers the 9.7-inch $399 iPad 2. Does Apple need to go lower, smaller than that?

Or does Tim Cook know something we don't? Apple could come up with some spectacular new tech that's worth paying a premium for. Or a market segment we haven't imagined yet. But a pure value tablet play is probably better left to the Android guys.