Coming soon: A whole bunch of tablet pretenders

There are 20 new tablets set to hit stores in the next few months, and only one of them has a chance to give Apple (s AAPL) any sort of competition. That exception? Amazon’s (s AMZN) very-likely-to-soon-be-announced, overhauled Kindle tablet, according to UBS analysts, after surveying the not very hopeful field (see chart).

So what’s wrong with the field? There’s a lot out there, but very little in the way of true differentiation from what we’ve already seen, says UBS. While Apple had a hit on its hands very early with the iPad — selling 24 million units in 15 months — many competitors have tried (and largely failed) to make a dent in its market share: Research In Motion (s RIMM), a handful of electronics makers armed with Google’s Android OS, and Hewlett-Packard (s HPQ). HP found out very quickly how tough it is to fight a battle against the reasonably priced and well-established iPad, and ended up killing off the WebOS TouchPad in less than two months.

While RIM and Android tablet makers like Motorola (s MMI) and Samsung are still hanging in there, UBS notes that it’s clear other tablet newcomers aren’t taking heed of HP’s cautionary tale. Some brands of tablets scheduled for release around the holiday season are certainly familiar (HTC, Sony, (s sne) Toshiba, Lenovo) while others, like GameStop’s (s gme) upcoming tablet, are from unproven names in the mainstream consumer market. Prices are all over the map, ranging from Lenovo’s $199 7-inch Android (s GOOG) tablet to NEC’s (Japan-only) $1,230 Windows 7 (s msft) slate.

There are many combinations of feature sets, price and OS forthcoming in the tablets set for fall release, yet none of them seem to offer anything that would notably set them apart from Apple’s starting price of $499 and library of content and applications from iTunes and the App Store. Except, of course, Amazon’s upcoming Kindle tablet. It’s not going to take down the iPad, but it stands a serious chance to do some damage to Android tablet competitors. Writes UBS:

“Given our expectation for a $250 (or less) price point, we believe Amazon’s ‘tablet’ has the potential to be disruptive to the market and, in particular, the non-iPad market. We believe other tablet vendors will find it difficult to match Amazon’s price point, which we think is likely subsidized in order to help drive content sales. In this way, Amazon’s model is similar to Apple’s in the sense that Apple offers its other services with limited profit (iCloud is free, iTunes is not a major profit driver, etc) in order to drive hardware sales (its primary profit driver).”

The biggest drawbacks for the Amazon tablet could be the size, and possibly the over-reliance on cloud services. At seven inches, that screen size has not been as popular as 9- and 10-inch tablets, according to UBS, which found that two-thirds of retail tablet sales have 9-inch screens or larger, and one-third have 7-inch screens. Writes UBS:

“On the downside, we believe Amazon’s tablet is likely to have less memory, lowering the unit cost but a potential disadvantage. However, Amazon may rely a lot more on its cloud services and we believe could be a testament of cloud offerings for the consumer market. We believe this will test the market’s readiness to accept a more cloud-based architecture for storage. At the least, we believe consumers could be willing to overlook this given the low price.”

Amazon is expected to announce its Kindle tablet at an event in New York City on Wednesday. While it will go up against a vast field this fall, Apple isn’t going to release another new tablet until sometime next year. All signs point to steady demand for the iPad leading into the holidays, but going up against this field of other Android and Windows 7 tablets this fall will be a great opportunity for Amazon with its momentum in building its content library, established brand, and early positive reviews.

Image courtesy of flickr user gillyberlin