iPad mini promo (Smart Cover, launching Safari)

Days after reports suggesting shorter delays for Apple’s iPad mini comes rumors the company could ship about 11 million of the 7.9-inch tablets during the first quarter of 2013. The potential reason: an improved supply chain from China’s factories producing the device.

At last week’s earnings call, Apple CEO Tim Cook said iPad mini shipments were constrained during the all-important holiday period. While in December there was a week delay shipping the tablet, the shipping wait had fallen to 3-5 days by mid-January. The shortened shipping time was likely the precursor of today’s rumor about first quarter demand…

Today’s report from the Chinese-language CCIDNet (via AppleInsider) dovetails with a Tuesday report by supply-chain news site DigiTimes.

According to the site, “industry sources” claim Apple has reduced “shipments for its 9.7-inch iPad products in the first quarter to as low as six million units, down from Apple’s originally estimated 12-15 million units.”

The perceived reason?

The “increasing popularity among consumers for the iPad mini”.

iPad mini (three-up, front, back, profile, white)

This report seems to bolster the earlier rumor that whatever supply issues were slowing iPad minis getting to customers has eased. Although almost certainly some observers will read only “reduced shipments” of iPad mini displays and hastily conclude slowing demand.

In fact,  reduced orders for LG’s displays most likely means a tighter and better-performing iPad mini supply chain. Also recall that LG is not the only supplier providing displays for the iPad mini.

The problem with unsourced news reports such as these is readers are unable to determine the reasons for the leaks. Is LG using DigiTimes to send Apple a message: ‘hey, the mini is popular, you need our contract’?

Is another display supplier calling attention to LG’s drop in orders, essentially saying the firm is no longer in Apple’s favor?

With NDA’s flying thick and heavy, we are not likely to get any answers. So, as we always advise: take these reports with a grain of salt.