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Apple’s “iPad Mini” has been strongly rumored ever since the announcement, release and success of smaller and cheaper tablets like the Kindle Fire, and more recently, Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD. With the hype surrounding iPhone 5 settling down, rumors for the iPad Mini are coming in hot!

The latest report comes from the folks over at Wall Street Journal who cite “people with knowledge of the situation” in Apple’s Asian component suppliers who claim that mass production of the smaller iPad has begun!

And that’s about it.

The iPad Mini is rumored to be announced later this month, so WSJ’s claim of its mass manufacturing are realistic. Media invites for the event are expected to be sent out next week.

As with recent Apple product announcements, expect the device to go on sale a week later. I am looking forward to the iPad Mini myself as, after playing around with a Nexus 7, I find the 9.7-inch iPad to be a bit too big to hold and use comfortably.

This is the first time in recent years where Apple is following a trend – that of smaller, cheaper tablets – instead of setting it the way they did with easy to use capacitive touchscreen-based user interfaces on the iPhone and iPad.

According to multiple rumors and reports, the smaller iPad – which is usually referred to as "iPad Mini" or "iPad Air" – will essentially be a smaller, lighter, more efficient iPad 2. You’ll get a 7.85-inch 1024 x 768 display, dual core A5 chip, 512MB of RAM, low resolution dual cameras, and memory configurations of 8GB and 16GB. Expect a price point between $199-$299.

When it goes on sale, the iPad Mini will likely be favored by the average consumer because of the greater number and quality of tablet-optimized and even tablet-exclusive apps, and a much richer digital content library in the form of iTunes Store.

In related news, there are also reports of Google introducing an even cheaper, $99 Nexus tablet that will come with less powerful hardware and, quite likely, ads spread across the user-interface.

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