Report: Apple Testing Small Form Factor iPad

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The launch of a next-gen iPad (unofficially dubbed the iPad 3) is allegedly slated for March. But a new wave of reports emerged Tuesday suggesting Apple may have another plan up its sleeve for the widely popular tablet device.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple is working with Asian component suppliers to test a smaller form factor iPad. The device, which would be an entirely separate product from the iPad 3, will tout an 8-inch screen the Journal said, citing people familiar with the matter. The iPad 2, unveiled almost one year ago, has a 9.7-inch screen.

A smaller tablet would not only expand Apple's product portfolio, but potentially help the Cupertino, Calif.-based company regain some of its lost market share from competitors including Samsung and Amazon, whose modestly sized tablets have met with success in the mobile consumer market. Amazon’s Kindle Fire comes with a 7-inch screen, while Samsung offers its Galaxy Tab devices in an array of sizes, including a 7-inch, an 8.9-inch and a 10.1-inch.

"Samsung's 5.3-inch Galaxy Note and Amazon's 7-inch Kindle Fire have been selling well. It means consumers want a tablet that is smaller than the existing 9.7-inch iPad," Diana Wu, an analyst at Capital Securities in Taipei, told the Journal. "iPad's features are good enough but pricing would be an important factor in the mass market, especially in big emerging markets like China and India."

The 7-inch Kindle Fire and 7-inch Galaxy Tab are priced at $199 and $349 respectively, while the iPad's entry-level price point is $499.

One anonymous source told the Journal that the smaller iPad would have a screen resolution similar to the iPad 2’s, which is 1,024 x 768. The source also said Apple is already working with display makers, including Taiwan-based AU Optronics and LG, to develop test panels. The company allegedly works with suppliers to test new designs on a regular basis, the source said, so there is a possibility the 8-inch screen won’t even make it to market.

Apple did not reply to a request for comment.

Reports of an 8-inch iPad come on the heels of speculation last week that the iPad 3 will launch next month, equipped with a faster A5 chip, an improved graphical processing unit (GPU) and a 2,048 x 1,536 "Retina" display. The new device is expected to debut at an unconfirmed Apple-hosted event, presumably at the San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

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