Anticipation built Tuesday as Apple prepared to unwrap its "iPad Mini," launching a foray into the crowded market of smaller tablet computers dominated by Amazon, Google, and Samsung.
A man is seen playing a game on an iPad. Just weeks after its momentous launch of the iPhone 5, Apple is back with what is expected to be another hot gadget -- a 'mini' version of its market-leading iPad tablet.
As is its style, Apple remained mute regarding its exact plans but took the unusual step of saying it would livestream the event, from 1700 GMT in San Jose in the heart of Silicon Valley -- albeit only on its own products.
Invitations to the first major product launch since the death of Apple's visionary co-founder Steve Jobs last year and his replacement by Tim Cook bore only time and location details along with the message: "We've got a little more to show you."
However, rampant rumor fueled by industry insiders foretold of the arrival of an "iPad Mini" priced from $249 to $399 with a screen measuring 7.85 inches (20 centimeters) diagonally across.
"I don't think they have any choice," said independent analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group in Silicon Valley.
"The reality is that the smaller tablets seem to be much more popular because they are lower priced and easy to hold."
Apple set the tablet computer market ablaze with the first iPad in early 2010 and stuck with its 9.7-inch screen while rivals introduced lower-price tablets with screens closer to seven-inches.
Amazon's seven-inch Kindle Fire proved popular last year, and a new version was launched last month.
Meanwhile, a Google Nexus 7 powered by Android software joined the Samsung Galaxy in the seven-inch tablet market.
With Kindle and Nexus tablets starting at $199, Apple will be forced to keep its price low for its new model and "will not have its normal profit margin," said Roger Kay, a consultant and analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates.
Some blogs say Google may come out with a tablet as low as $99.
"Apple is kind of late to the market with a small tablet," Enderle said.
"This is the first launch of a product that is all Tim Cook's but it is a very crowded arena with prices hard for Apple to meet."
An iPad Mini could wind up cannibalizing sales of larger models while budget-sensitive shoppers opt for competing devices at prices too low for Apple to meet or beat, according to analysts.
Kay said that Apple would be making a "defensive" move with the new device, but that it is unclear whether it will trounce established products from Amazon, Samsung and others.
"Apple wouldn't have gone into this if others hadn't," he said.
"The bar has been set by Amazon. Even though the Kindle is not the same kind of device, it does what it does very well."
Analyst Shaw Wu at Sterne Agee said the iPad Mini "is the competition's worst nightmare" but that sales will depend on how Apple prices the device.
"We do not believe Apple needs to price as low as $199 to match Google's Nexus 7 and Amazon's Kindle Fire HD but believe a price point of $299 or $349 makes sense," he said.
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