• By
  • Lorraine Luk

Apple hasn’t officially confirmed plans to launch a smaller tablet, but the buzz is already building.

Some component suppliers to Apple in Asia say they have received orders to make more than 10 million units of the smaller tablets in the fourth quarter. That is roughly double the order that were placed for Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets in the same quarter, these suppliers say.

The figure indicates that Apple believes demand for the product will be strong, despite stiff competition in the market.

Apple hasn’t responded to requests for comment on the smaller tablet dubbed by the industry as the iPad mini.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that Asian component suppliers have already started producing the smaller 7.85-inch tablet.  Apple hasn’t confirmed when the new device will be available, but AllThingsD, a sister publication of The Wall Street Journal, reported last month that Apple plans to unveil the smaller tablet later this month.

Analysts say strong consumer demand for Samsung Electronics ’ 5.3-inch Galaxy Note and Amazon’s 7-inch Kindle Fire shows that there is demand for a smaller tablet. Apple currently offers only one size –the 9.7-inch iPads.

“It makes sense for market leader Apple to extend its dominance in tablets with a smaller tablet,”said Capital Securities analyst Diana Wu.

Although Apple is still the biggest tablet maker in the world, its share of the market has been slipping following the launch of Android-based products.

According to market research firm iSuppli, Apple’s share of the worldwide tablet market was 69.6% in the second quarter, down from nearly 84% in 2010. The second-largest player was Samsung Electronics with 9.2% of the market in the second quarter.

Analysts say the challenge for Apple will be to price the smaller tablet attractively in order for it to succeed.  Amazon’s 7-inch Kindle Fire HD sells for $199 and Google ’s 7-inch Nexus 7 sells for $199.

“iPad mini will be a big hit if Apple prices it below $300,” said RBS analyst Wanli Wang.

Watch a video of the WSJ’s Ian Sherr talking about what Apple’s new tablet may look like:


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