What timing! Exactly one week before Amazon is expected to unveil a new Kindle line, the company announced on Thursday that its Kindle Fire tablet is sold out.
Amazon ( sent out press invitations last week for a Sept. 6 event in California. While Amazon didn't reveal the subject of the event, it's widely expected that the company will unveil new versions of the Fire tablet and Kindle e-readers. )
The sell-out isn't all that surprising: Retailers often let stock sell out or offer steep discounts on merchandise that is about to be replaced with newer versions.
Thursday's press release about the Kindle Fire sell-out didn't reveal how many have been sold, as Amazon famously doesn't release Kindle unit sales. The company did say the Fire comprised 22% of U.S. tablet sales in its nine months on the market, though the source of Amazon's data is unclear. IHS iSuppli's analysis found that the Kindle Fire never held more than a 14% share of the tablet market, and sales have slipped in recent months.
The 7-inch Kindle Fire began shipping in November for $199, clearly aimed at undercutting Apple's ( wildly popular $499 iPad. The Fire is geared towards media consumption: reading books and magazines, watching video and streaming music. )
Among the rumors about next week's event: Amazon may announce a 10-inch Kindle Fire. That would be slightly bigger than the 9.7-inch screen on the iPad.
At the same time, Apple is rumored to be releasing a smaller version of the iPad at its own event sometime in September or October. The so-called "iPad Mini" will purportedly be a 7-inch device -- just like the current Kindle Fire.
Apple controlled more than two-thirds of the tablet market in the second quarter, according to iSuppli's most recent data. Samsung has captured about 9% of the market, and Amazon came in at the No. 3 spot with 4%. Rounding out the top 5 were Asus with 3% and Barnes & Noble ( at 2%. )
It's a tough market to play in, littered with other tablets that sorely disappointed or died outright. In the most extreme example, Hewlett-Packard ( killed off its TouchPad last year after just 49 days on the market. )
BlackBerry maker Research in Motion ( released its )PlayBook tablet in April 2011 and immediately drew criticism for its unfinished feel. Motorola's Xoom debuted at $799, and sales were sluggish.