The rumors have moved beyond the blogs to the mainstream press, yet another familiar step leading up to the official announcement. Today the Wall Street Journal is reporting that mass production of the iPad mini is underway, with the information coming from component suppliers. Their sources say that the new tablet will have a 7.85-inch display, as has been rumored. And again they say that it will have a lower resolution than the current iPad with retina display. Many expect it to have the same resolution as the iPad 2, meaning that apps won't have to be rewritten to accommodate the new size.
Trusted Reviews has a post discussing the photos of iPad mini parts that appeared online this week. They point out that the photos suggest that the new iPad will use the a black anodized aluminium finish similar to that on the iPhone 5. This could mean, though, that the new iPad will face the same problem of chipping that's being seen on the iPhone 5. The photos also suggest that the iPad mini will have a rear-facing camera, which other tablets in the 7-inch range don't typically have, such as the Amazon Kindle Fire and Google Nexus 7.
Of course the big question is price. There has been speculation but not really much to go on. Amazon sells its Kindle Fire at cost, making no profit on each unit, because it expects to make money selling media for the device. Apple doesn't sell products at cost, and because of its massive supply chain and partnerships with component makers, it's able to manufacture devices at a lower cost. It's quite possible that the iPad mini will come in at under $300, while still allowing a solid profit for Apple. It's hard to imagine Apple will price it higher, especially since Barnes & Noble will be selling their 9-inch Nook HD+ for $269.
The tablet market is really heating up, with one report saying that Apple's share has dropped. But because the market is exploding, Apple continues to sell ever larger numbers of iPads, even though it's share may be declining. And it's still the biggest player by far, selling more than all of the Android tablets combined.
The competing tablets just keep getting better. Starting at $199, Amazon's new Kindle Fire HD tablets look solid, and the $50/year data plan on their $499 model can't be beat. The $199 Google's Nexus 7 is a very capable tablet, but certainly no iPad. The Barnes & Noble tablets will certainly stir things up. They have an even better screen resolution than the Kindle Fire HD.
Of course, hardware specs are only one consideration. When one buys a tablet these days, one is also buying into a media environment. Apple's iTunes Store seems to have the most content, with Amazon a close second. Prices are similar but Amazon's prices are sometimes lower. Also, Amazon's media will work on a wider variety of platforms. The Google Play store is quite a bit behind the other two, especially in regard to video content. And Barnes & Noble, while it's long had a large book catalog, will only this fall begin offering movies and TV shows, and it will likely lag behind as well.
Also this fall Microsoft's Surface tablets will make their appearance. So far the rumors suggest that they will be competing on the high end rather than in the 7-inch or sub-$500 range.
Competition is good; it means continually better products at lower prices. And this booming market is definitely heating up.