Google's new Nexus 7 tablet may be aimed more at Amazon and its Kindle Fire than Apple and its iPad, but Apple will not be able to ignore the low-end of the tablet market dominated by 7-in. devices, analysts said today.
"They're going to have to care about that market," said James McQuivey of Forrester Research. "I don't think Apple will have the luxury of ignoring the [7-in.] form factor entirely."
Earlier today, Google unveiled the Nexus 7, a 7-in. tablet manufactured by ASUS, that is now available for pre-order, with tablets shipping in mid-July. Prices for the Nexus 7 range from $199 for an 8GB device to $249 for a 16GB model.
Those prices, as well as almost every specification and feature Google revealed today, had been leaked before the kick-off of the Google I/O developer conference.
"It's a sweet device, there's no doubt about that, but it's more aimed at Amazon than at Apple," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "It's an aggressively-priced tablet."
Amazon's Kindle Fire, which the e-tailing giant launched late last year, is also a 7-in. tablet that starts at $199. Analysts now expect Amazon to update the Fire in the next few weeks.
But the Nexus 7 isn't taking on the iPad, 9.7-in. tablet, which starts at $499, or even last year's iPad 2, which Apple continues to sell in a 16GB configuration for $399.
"They're not going after Apple...at the moment," said Michael Gartenberg of Gartner. "But they're definitely competing with the Fire."
"Google has nothing [in the Nexus 7] on the iPad, of course," echoed McQuivey.
But the entry of Google, the success -- especially during the 2011 holiday season -- of the Fire, and the increased attention by rivals to the 7-in. form factor will force Apple to launch its own tablet in that size later this year, said the analysts.
Rumors that Apple will debut a 7-in. version of the iPad, dubbed by many the "iPad Mini" -- perhaps a sop to the Mac Mini desktop computer it sells -- have circulated almost since the 2010 launch of the first-generation iPad.
Increasingly, analysts have concluded that Apple will reveal such a device. Today's announcement by Google has pushed their opinions to the "certainty" line on the probability meter.
"[The Nexus 7] makes it even more important that Apple has a reasonable response," said Gottheil, who predicted that Apple will launch an iPad Mini this fall, before the start of the end-of-year sales season, at a price point between $249 and $299.
Google's debut of the Nexus 7 won't change Apple's plans, said Gottheil, who is one of the experts who has long-believed Apple will make a move into the smaller format. But it will focus their attention, added McQuivey.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.