iPad Mini: Smaller tablet may arrive by October

The iPad has come in one size – 9.7 inches – since Apple first introduced it in 2010. Now, Apple's component manufacturers are rumored to be preparing for production of a smaller 7- or 8-inch iPad, to be released before the end of the year.

David Gray/Reuters/File
Apple may be planning to release a smaller version of the iPad tablet by the end of the year. Here, a man looks at his iPad in a cafe in Beijing.

For months now, we've heard murmurings that Apple is preparing to make a smaller version of the iPad -- an iPad Mini, if you will -- with a 7- or 8-inch screen, which would compete with Google's Nexus 7 or Amazon's Kindle Fire. Now those rumors are coming into focus: Apparently the companies that supply Apple's components are gearing up to begin building smaller iPads in September, and Apple may announce the new tablet as soon as October.

Of course, rumors about any big technology company's plans ought to be taken with a grain of salt -- and that goes double when talking about a company as notoriously secretive as Apple. But this one comes from two august publications: the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, both of whom quote people "familiar with the situation" who asked not to be named. The Post adds that the smaller iPad won't have the high-res Retina Display found in the iPhone, the iPad released in March and, more recently, in the Macbook Pro.

Would a smaller tablet make sense? Right now the iPad -- every model of which has had a 9.7-inch screen -- makes up more than 60 percent of the tablet market. But that market is becoming increasingly crowded with smaller tablets from Samsung, Amazon, and Google. The Kindle Fire, in particular, has sold well as a highly portable, relatively inexpensive ($199) device built for reading and media consumption. There's good reason to expect that an Apple-branded tablet you could hold in one hand would make a big splash. Analysis company IDC predicted last month that Apple's share of the tablet market would only increase if it introduced a smaller, cheaper version of the iPad.

It's also worth mentioning the recently-unveiled Microsoft Surface, which is actually larger than the iPad, with a 10.6-inch display and a keyboard built right into the tablet's screen cover. The Surface won't debut until the fall, but Apple no doubt has its eye on Microsoft as well. A larger tablet with a tactile keyboard might make a splash with people interested in being able to do "real work" on the go, without having to carry a laptop.

The market for tablets is still expanding -- the Wall Street Journal says overall sales will rise by 85% over last year -- so it's in Apple's interest to defend as much of that turf as it can, and in consumers' interest to see well-made tablets competing with each other on features and price.

Readers, would you buy a 7- or 8-inch iPad if it were available? Would you choose it over a similarly-sized Android tablet? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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