Apple is planning an autumn launch for its forthcoming ‘mini-iPad' with Foxconn and Pegatron factories in China reportedly starting production of the devices, which will appear in volume in time for the Christmas rush.
Some six million units will be ready by the end of September, in time for an early October launch.
Reports today in both the Wall Street Journal and the Bloomberg newswire, based on inside interviews, confirm rumours that have been gaining traction all year. In particular, press reports in the Far East have tracked Apple's search for components for the new machine.
Both Samsung and Sharp have been mooted as suppliers of the screens for the mini-iPad. In April, Korea Times reported that Samsung was supplying Apple with screens based on new planar-line switching LCD technology for the devices' 7.86 inch (20 centimetre) displays. More recent reports in the Chinese-language press suggest that the screens will be made by Sharp and will use indium gallium zinc oxide (IGZO) screen technology.
Today, Bloomberg reported: "The new model will have a screen that's seven inches to eight inches diagonally, less than the current 9.7-inch version.... The product, which Apple may announce by October, won't have the high-definition screen featured on the iPad that was released in March."
Steve Jobs had resisted the idea of launching a seven inch iPad, arguing that the form factor would be too small for a tablet PC, and too large for a phone.
However, the mini-iPad is vital for Apple to defend its market share against the rising tide of much cheaper Android-based alternatives, some of which retail for less than £100, compared to the iPad's starting price of £329 in High Street stores such as Argos.
Apple also faces stiff competition from Amazon and Google. Google recently launched the Nexus 7, a seven-inch Android-based device featuring a fast, quad-core microprocessor, which will cost just $199 (£130) - which will probably be sold at £199 in the UK.
Amazon has launched the Kindle Fire, which is also an Android-based device, but one that has been heavily customised by the online retail giant to direct users to the company's app store and content downloads.
These competing devices typically have smaller screens than Apple's iPads.
Nevertheless, both the Amazon and Google devices are heavily subsidised as the two companies fight to dominate the market for apps and other downloads. However, Shaw Wu, an analyst at Sterne Agee & Leach quoted on Bloomberg, suggested that the cheaper screen and Apple's economies of scale would enable Apple to profitably produce the devices at a $199 (£130) or $249 (£160) price point.
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