Apple has issued invitations to an October 23 event in San Jose, California, where it's expected to unveil a smaller tablet, tagged as the "iPad Mini" by most.
The invitation is typical Apple-esque, with a colorful graphic and a single line of text: "We've got a little more to show you."
The "little" in the copy, most assume, refers to the iPad Mini, reportedly a scaled down version of the iPad with a 7.85-in. screen.
The launch event will begin at 10 a.m. PT (1 p.m. ET) at San Jose's California Theater.
Apple's iPad Mini has been long-rumored -- talk of a smaller tablet has circulated almost since the 2010 launch of the 9.7-in. model -- with some of the more recent rumors tagging an Oct. 17 launch and a Nov. 2 on-sale date.
Those rumours did not pan out, of course; last week, several media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal's AllThingsD blog, shifted to predicting an Oct. 23 event.
Apple's invitation said nothing about the topic of the event or even the iPad, much less confirming prices for the smaller device. Most analysts have forecast a starting price between $249 and $299, with the former making the rounds recently but the latter still the most likely, according to Sameer Singh, an analyst who tracks mobility on his Tech-Thoughts website.
The turnabout at Apple over a smaller iPad flies in the face of earlier statements from the company. In October 2010, Apple's former CEO Steve Jobs made one of his rare earnings call appearances to belittle 7-in. tablets.
"There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touch screen," Jobs said at the time. "This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps."
Jobs dismissed the smaller screen size, saying that the expected crop of 7-in. tablets in late 2010 would be "DOA, Dead on Arrival," that their makers would "learn a painful lesson that their tablets are too small," and recommended OEMs considering that size screen include sandpaper with their devices "so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one quarter of the present size."
As recently as February 2012, current CEO Tim Cook seemed to say much the same, denigrating what he called "cheap tablets" as he pointed to Amazon's Kindle Fire, which at $200 enjoyed strong sales success during 2011's holiday season.
"The customers that we're designing our products for are not going to be satisfied with a limited function kind of product," Cook said during the February conference call hosted by investment firm Goldman Sachs.
But most experts believe that Apple had to downsize in both footprint and price -- to hold and expand its tablet dominance. With a smaller, less-expensive Mini in the mix, Apple would, they said, have a fleshed out line-up that also includes the $499 iPad with a Retina screen and the $399 iPad 2 from 2011. That would put it in a position to grow its share and perhaps squash the tablet initiatives by rivals like Amazon, Google and Microsoft.
If Apple hews to its usual timeline of product introduction followed by pre-sales, and then by a sales kickoff, it will begin taking pre-orders for the Mini on Oct. 23 or no later than Oct. 25, then deliver those orders and begin selling the tablet at retail on Nov. 2.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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