Apple invitation hints at iPad mini launch

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Apple has sent out invitations for what is widely speculated to be the launch of the iPad mini - a smaller version of its bestselling tablet computer.

The digital cards' text reads: "We've got a little more to show you."

Rumours suggest the new model will feature a display that is 7-8in (18-20cm) in size.

Amazon's Kindle Fire and Asus's Google-branded Nexus 7 have already proved popular with users who want a tablet they can hold with one hand.

But Apple continues to dominate sales, according to research by iHS iSuppli.

A study it published in August suggested that Apple shipped 17 million tablets over the April-to-June quarter capturing close to 70% of the market.

The event will take place at California Theatre in San Jose, California.

Too small?

Apple's former boss, the late Steve Jobs, had previously attacked the idea of releasing a smaller iPad.

Nexus 7 Researchers at Gartner estimated up to 1.5 million Nexus 7 tablets were sold in its first five weeks

"There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touchscreen before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them," he told analysts in October 2010, according to a transcript of a conference call provided by news site Seeking Alpha.

"This is one of the key reasons we think the 10in screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps... 7in tablets are tweeners, too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with an iPad."

He added that he believed the concept would prove "dead on arrival" when trialled by others.

However, in a recent patent battle with Samsung an email from Apple's head of iTunes business, Eddy Cue, revealed that Mr Jobs' views might have later changed.

"I believe there will be a 7in market and we should do one," Mr Cue wrote on 24 January 2011.

"I expressed this to Steve several times since Thanksgiving and he seemed very receptive the last time."

Apple's success might be determined by the price it decides to sell its new devices at.

Amazon's chief executive, Jeff Bezos, recently revealed to the BBC that his firm sold Kindle tablets at break-even prices, seeking to make money from customers who then made other purchases from his store.

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The Google Nexus 7, Samsung Galaxy Tab2 7, Barnes & Noble Nook HD, Blackberry Playbook, Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Kobo Arc tablets can all be bought for less than £200 in the UK.

By contrast, Apple currently sells its cheapest tablet - the iPad 2 - for £329.

Competition will intensify when Microsoft puts its Surface tablets - including its much-used Office software - on sale on 26 October, alongside a range of other Windows 8-powered models from other manufacturers.

Microsoft has said the low-end Windows RT-based version of the Surface will be priced at £399 at launch. The cover with a built-in keyboard will cost an extra £100.

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