Will Apple Steal the Show With an iPad Mini?

The world’s most valuable company unveiled its latest smartphone just a few weeks ago, but anticipation is already shifting to its next major product launch. Many analysts expect Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) to announce a smaller version of its highly popular iPad later this month. Rumors indicate that invitations to the event are expected to be sent next week, while a new survey shows why Apple needs an iPad Mini. Furthermore, a recent calendar update from the company itself hints at a mid-October announcement.

A major unidentified Apple investor told Fortune that he heard from “multiple sources” that invites will be sent out on October 10 for a special media event scheduled for Wednesday, October 17. Rumors of another iPad have been swirling around the markets for a few months now. Kirk Yang, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Barclays, wrote in a recent research note to clients that Apple was still on target to release the iPad Mini in 2012 and that the new device could easily sell up to 9 million units this year. Consumer tech industry analyst Paul Mueller even believes the next iPad could have a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio display.

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Although some believe another iPad may cannibalize sales of other iGadgets, a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism shows that adults are flocking to mobile devices more than ever. According to the study, 50 percent of American adults own either a tablet or a smartphone. Currently, 22 percent of adults own a tablet, double the amount seen last year. Among those who do not own a tablet, 23 percent plan to get one in the next six months. The strong demand and the approaching holiday season bodes well for the increasing amount of companies that offer new and more affordable tablets. Last year, 81 percent of tablet owners reported owning an iPad. However, in this year’s study that figure dropped to 52 percent. Almost half of those polled own a Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) developed Android-based device, with 21 percent of those being Amazon’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle Fires.

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Google currently offers the new Nexus 7 with a price tag of $199, while Amazon recently refreshed its entire Kindle family lineup. The online retailer juggernaut now offers a Kindle Fire HD model with a 7-inch screen for $199 and an 8.9-inch model for $499. In September, Barnes and Noble (NYSE:BKS) also unveiled a $199 7-inch Nook HD tablet and a $269 9-inch Nook HD+ tablet. If Apple plans to keep its dominance in the tablet market and steal the show this holiday season, it needs to release a smaller and cheaper iPad model, sooner rather than later.

Timing is everything in life. This is a concept not lost on Apple. The tech giant typically holds its fiscal fourth quarter earnings conference call in mid-October. For the past five years, Apple held the call between October 13 and October 18. However, this year’s call has been scheduled a week later on October 25. Perhaps Apple wants analysts to focus on an iPad Mini in mid-October, instead of its quarterly results? The later than usual conference call also paves the way and adds validity to the iPad Mini’s rumored October 17 event. Furthermore, it sets Apple up perfectly to lessen the focus on Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) new Windows 8 tablet launch, scheduled for October 26.

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