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Analysts reckon that Amazon's Kindle Fire stole over one million Apple iPad sales over the Christmas period. Did that really happen, or are other forces at play?

Stealing A March by March?

Perhaps the boldest claim in 2012 so far in tech is..."Of the four million Kindle Fire sales to date, one million were at the expense of the iPad." That's what Morgan Keegan banking analyst Travis McCourt is basically saying.

Certainly, some folks picked up a Kindle Fire when they saw its price compared to the iPad's. However, more likely those people also compared it to the raft of rival Android tablets and other options available. No one seems to be saying Kindle Fire denied Sony decent sales of its Tablet S (recently reduced in price by US$ 100) or that RIM's PlayBook (also recently slashed in price) sales would have rocketed if it weren't for the Fire.

All of these tablets will be looking for growing sales in 2012, alongside the ASUS Transformer Prime, Samsung's next tablet and, later in the year a range of Windows 8 tablets from Microsoft and partners. Will they all be accused of stealing sales from Apple, or each other?

Alternate Routes to Success?

However, if someone had the money and didn't decide to buy an iPad before Christmas it could be down to several other factors. Firstly, there is a fair possibility of the successor iPad 3 appearing late February, which alone could see a bunch of potential buyers holding onto their cash for a few more months.

When iPad 3 does launch, Apple is likely to reduce the price of the current iPad 2 and/or introduce a smaller form-factor iPad model that will round out the iPad family to counter the rise of less expensive tablets, as it has done with the iPod and iPhone ranges. That's plenty of reason for buyers to hold onto their cash, so Apple might not have lost sales, but had them delayed by a financial quarter.

Another option is that the launch of the iPhone 4S and price reductions on the iPhone 4 and 3GS saw people who wanted to get into the Apple market go for a phone rather than a tablet. Recent iPhone launches of apps like GarageBand and Flipboard mean there is less distinction between the two devices.

Content is King

In the financial context, Apple makes its money on hardware, content and software, while Amazon is relying purely on content to generate revenue. With the staggering amount of apps downloaded over Christmas, Apple will be steaming ahead on all those fronts, while it will take some time to establish how much Kindle owners are consuming.

What is certain is that neither Amazon or Apple will lose sleep over a few sales in one period of the year. Sure, they all count, but both have a long-term game plan, that while different, will see them competing day-after-day for years to come.

Both will soon be threatened by the new line of ultrabooks entering the market and diverging content and app markets on those machines. As smartphones get larger, the divide between phone and tablet will also shrink. Either way, Apple and Amazon (with what has to be said is a phenomenal commercial success) now stand apart from rivals struggling to keep up in this rapidly changing landscape.