REVEALED: iPad Mini Due This Fall

The Wall Street Journal seems to have unearthed the most significant evidence that a much-rumored iPad Mini is on the way, just one day after Bloomberg published an article citing anonymous sources who said Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) plans to debut a cheaper, smaller iPad by year’s end.

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Apple component suppliers in Asia are, according to the WSJ, preparing for mass production in September of a tablet computer with a smaller screen than the iPad, suggesting that the launch date isn’t far off. Two of the people said the tablet’s screen will likely be smaller than eight inches — all iPad models to date have measured 9.7 inches.

Officials at Apple’s component suppliers said this week that Apple told them to prepare for mass production of the smaller tablet, which has been widely rumored for months. In February, the WSJ reported that Apple was testing such a device, but hadn’t yet decided whether to proceed with production.

LG Display (NYSE:LPL) and AU Optronics are reportedly among the screen makers with which Apple is working on the device, which analysts say could help Apple maintain its dominance in a market that everyday become more crowded with competitors, most of whom offer cheaper tablet’s than Apple entry-level iPad 2, which retails for $399. Amazon’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) 7-inch Kindle Fire retails for $199, while Barnes & Noble’s (NYSE:BKS) NOOK Color tablet retails for $169. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) also recently unveiled tablet devices of their own.

Last year, the iPad had a 62 percent share of the global tablet market, according to market research firm IHS iSuppli, which expects overall tablet sales to surge 85 percent this year to 126.6 million units. If Apple were to maintain its 62 percent share in 2012, it would have to sell 78.49 million iPads. At the current introductory price, 78.49 million iPads would pull in $31.3 billion, minimum.

But consumers’ choices are growing, and there are a lot more affordable tablets on the market. And soon, many tablet competitors may be able to challenge Apple on more than just price. Microsoft’s Surface tablet, expected to debut this fall, has a 10.6-inch display, making it nearly an inch larger than the iPad, and rather than pose a threat to lower-end Kindle and Nook tablets, it is thought to be comparable to the iPad in both technology and price.

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