More iPad mini evidence: mass production begins

A smaller iPad from Apple(s AAPL) is reportedly closer to reality than ever before. Mass production of a smaller Apple tablet has begun, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday. The source for this is the usual “people familiar with the matter.” But the drumbeat of rumors regarding an iPad mini (or whatever it will be called) that¬†began a year ago¬†have been intensifying over the past few months.

Last month two companies making 7.85-inch displays, reportedly for an iPad mini, said those went in to mass production. There were reports before that that Apple was testing such a device. Then AllThingsD reported the smaller tablet would get its own press event in October. And on Monday, Fortune reported via a major Apple investor that invitations to that event to introduce this device will be sent out a week from today.

What else has been said about it?

  • The screen is said to measure 7.85 inches diagonally, down from the 9.7-inch measurement of the first three iterations of the iPad.
  • The screen is not going to be Retina quality — likely to keep costs down, and perhaps to keep apps at a standard resolution for developers.
  • That many Apple executives weren’t on board with the smaller tablet idea — but SVP Eddy Cue apparently used a Kevin Tofel blog post to help convince them.
  • I’ve heard from a reliable source that this has been one of the shortest product cycles for Apple, from concept to production.

And why would that be? Apple has likely taken seriously the threat of smaller tablets already on the market — and that people are buying them. From Amazon(s AMZN) to Barnes & Noble(s BKS) to Google’s Nexus 7(s GOOG) to the soon-to-be-released Microsoft(s MSFT) tablets, tablets smaller than the 9.7-inch iPad are selling, for reading and basic web browsing, and for watching videos and using productivity apps. To protect its own profits by offering an iPad competitively priced with some of those devices, it has to go smaller.