With the launch of the iPhone 5 behind it, Apple is turning its attention back to the production of a smaller iPad tablet, informally referred to as the iPad Mini.
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, which quoted unnamed sources with knowledge of the situation, Apple’s Asian suppliers have begun mass production of the smaller tablet. Two of the sources claimed the device would have a screen size of 7.85 inches and a lower-resolution display than the 9.7-inch high-definition Retina display found on the full-size iPad.
The sources also told The Journal that LG Display of South Korea and Taiwan’s AU Optronics have begun production on the device’s LCD panel. This is not the first time rumors about the production of an iPad Mini have surfaced.
Although Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who passed away last year, had famously derided the concept of a 7-inch tablet, a slew of low-priced competing devices from Amazon, Google and others could prompt Apple to offer consumers a device in the $200 range. The full-size iPad currently starts at $499, while Amazon’s recently released 7-inch Kindle Fire tablets start at $159 and Google’s Nexus 7 tablet starts at $199.
Apple may not have to price the iPad Mini that low, according to the results of a survey earlier this year from Pricegrabber, which found that 52 percent of respondents would consider purchasing an iPad mini for approximately $250 to $300. Reduced price and size, a Retina display, 3G connectivity and an ultra-thin body were among the most hoped-for features on the iPad Mini, and 64 percent of respondents said a price point lower than that on the iPad would be a top consideration.
Selling a smaller tablet could also allow Apple to break into a market of consumers who want all the features and design finesse of the iPad but in a smaller form factor. Daiwa Capital Markets analyst Christine Wang told The Wall Street Journal a smaller tablet would satisfy those who feel the current iPad is too heavy or too expensive. "Many people use the iPad to play games and watch videos, but they cannot hold it with one hand," Wang told the paper.
While iPad Mini rumors have been circulating for months, in September Jefferies analyst Peter Misek outlined Apple's potential upcoming media events and product launches, including a media event for the unconfirmed device. In the research note, Misek predicted an invitation for an iPad Mini launch event would be mailed to the media Oct. 10, followed by the formal announcement of the device by mid-October and culminating with the launch of the iPad Mini at the end of that month. Earlier analyst predictions had pegged the launch of the iPad Mini in September.
Apple currently leads the tablet market by a healthy margin, accounting for a 68.2 percent share worldwide, according to an August report from IT research firm IDC. Apple shipped 17 million iPads during the second quarter of 2012, up from 11.8 million units in the prior quarter. In the report, IDC predicted the launch of tablets from Apple competitors and the release of Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system, specifically designed for the touch-screen interfaces found on tablets, would result in a competitive and robust market for tablets in the second half of the year.