With Amazon's announcement Monday that its new Kindle Fire tablet will be unveiled this Wednesday in New York, the online marketplace has been rife with speculation about the threat this most recent contender will pose to the indomitable iPad.

In large part, the upcoming showdown between the Kindle Fire and the iPad this holiday season will be interesting because of how the focal points of the two companies differ. While the allure of Apple's sleek design is a tremendous selling point of the product to new users and provides at least some justification for higher price points, Amazon appears to be focusing more on the delivery of content to its already-established consumer based. As if to underscore this point, TechCrunch reports that the Fire will offer a backlit display and be structurally modeled closely upon the ailing BlackBerry PlayBook and competitively priced between $250 and $300.

Unlike the PlayBook, however, Kindle Fire will offer an Amazon-customized version of Android 2.1, as well as its own Android Appstore. Though the Appstore's offerings are not yet as extensive as those of the Google Android Market, it's evident that Amazon is focused on connecting its customers to content. As Amazon prepares to roll out the Kindle Fire for the holiday season, the company seems ready to bet on the strength of consumer demand for its marketplace offerings, which will include apps, ebooks, MP3s, and an extended collection of streaming video, including 2,000 new TV episodes and movies per Monday's signing of a deal with 20th Century Fox.

Yet, skeptics of the Kindle Fire take issue with the tablet's purported lack of both an email client and 3G connectivity and seem especially unexcited by its smaller size. Though a 10-inch Kindle Fire is said to be in the works for next year, like the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the HTC Flyer before it, the Fire that will be presented Wednesday offers a 7-inch screen.

The disparity in size between the iPad, as the reigning tablet in the marketplace, and the typical smartphone - usually 4 to 4.5 inches - begs the question of whether the gap between a pocket-sized smartphone and a nearly 10-inch tablet cannot be bridged. While Apple's competitors certainly seem to think so, a true challenger has yet to emerge from amongst smaller tablets. When questioned about a smaller iPad, both former and current Apple CEOs - Steve Jobs and Timothy Cook - have expressed skepticism at the notion. You wind up having a size of a tablet that is less than what we believe is reasonable or even one that would provide what we feel is a real tablet experience, Cook, then Apple's COO, said on a conference call back in January. Basically, you wind up with kind of a scaled-up smartphone, which is a bizarre product in our view.

Despite the doubts of the Cupertino company, analysts see the Fire as a possible contender in the race to challenge the iPad's hitherto comfortable supremacy. While not likely to pose a significant threat to the portion of the iPad market focusing primarily on business use of the tablet, the smaller Fire does seem well-poised to appeal to customers seeking on-the-go entertainment.

However, it is the 7-inch Kindle Fire's $250 price tag, rather than its streaming library or portability, that will likely make it such a dangerous rival for the iPad this holiday season. The recent HP TouchPad fire sales revealed that consumers are eagerly awaiting the arrival of a competitively priced tablet - even a non-Apple one - and the Kindle Fire appears to be ready to give the iPad a run for its money.