Amazon.com sent out invitations to a press event in New York City next Wednesday for what could be the unveiling of the online reailer's long-expected tablet computer.

The emailed invitation to reporters provides reporters with a a time, a date and a location and the simple phrase: "Please join us for an Amazon.com press conference." Amazon.com wouldn't comment on the nature of the event, but given the timing, it seems likely to be the unveiling of an Amazon's Android tablet news, or possibly a new 7-in. and 10-in. Kindle e-reader, analysts and bloggers theorized.

"Amazon has to get on the ball with the tablet launch before Apple comes along and steals all its thunder," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates in an email on Friday.

Apple is expected to unveil its iPhone 5 smartphone on Oct. 4.

"While I am not sure if Amazon's invitation is the big tablet announcement, I would hope so as it would put some separation between its launch and the announcement coming very soon from Apple," Gold said.

"Once the new iPhone is launched, the press will not talk about anything else for days or weeks," he added.

Amazon's expected Android tablet is expected to mount a strong challenge to Apple's iPad, partly because its price tag is said to be less than $300, well below the $499 starting price of Apple's popular device.

Still, the iPad holds more than 70% of the tablet market, according to Gartner, a hard lead to break.

Analysts at IDC and Forrester Research, among other IT research firms, have noted that Amazon.com would be able to easily sell content for an Amazon tablet , which would make up for any financial losses that resulted from selling devices at below cost.

TechCrunch reported on Sept. 2 http://techcrunch.com/2011/09/02/amazon-kindle-tablet/ that it had a chance to handle and use a pre-release version of the Amazon table. The online news site said the Android-based device has a full-color 7-in. touchscreen device, and will be priced at $250.

The TechCrunch reviewer said it looked very similar to the Research in Motion's BlackBerry PlayBook.

The reviewer also confirmed the expectations of analysts who have said the device will be back-lit and is not an e-ink device like the Kindle e-readers.

Many reports have suggested that the announcement of the Amazon tablet would come in October, and that the device would be available in November. Amazon.com now seems to be speeding up that expected schedule.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen , or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is [email protected] .

Read more about mobile and wireless in Computerworld's Mobile and Wireless Topic Center.