iPad mini (Minimally Minimal 002, white, desk, Magic Mouse)

Apple, according to a new supply chain report out of Asia, has placed orders with LG Display and Japan Display for high-resolution Retina screens for a second-generation iPad mini. Japan Display is a merger of the mobile display operations of Sony, Hitachi and Toshiba, in conjunction with the Innovation Network Corporation of Japan. Now, LG Display and AU Optronics both currently supply 1,024-by-768 panels for the iPad mini, and iDB last week heard the latter has already started mass producing Retina panels for the second-generation iPad mini.

With LG Display and Japan Display now reportedly having been added to the mix – and with leaks like this purported back shell – all signs point to Apple lining up its suppliers ahead of manufacturing, usually a tell-tale sign that the official announcement is around the corner. And if the iPad mini 2 is in fact looming, we’re probably looking at a summer launch at WWDC…

A report by the Seoul-based online publication ETNews (translated to English by financial service BrightWire), Apple has ordered Retina-class 7.9-inch LCD panels from its suppliers, including LG Display and Japan Display.

While the story specifically describes these 7.9-inch panels as having the 2,048-by-1,536 pixel resolution (matching the full-size Retina iPad), the reported 400 pixels per inch claim doesn’t jive well with a previous rumor calling for the 326ppi panel.

iPad mini 2 rear shell (WeiPhone 002)iPad mini 2 rear shell (WeiPhone 001)
The purported iPad mini 2 back shell, via a Chinese forum.

ETNews speculates the newly ordered panels could be for the third-generation iPad mini, but it’s unclear why the company would order screens for both iPad mini 2 and 3 simultaneously. Perhaps the 326ppi panel is for the iPad mini 2 and the 400ppi one for a rumored Apple phablet or a brand new form-factor iOS device.

Apple store holiday 2012 banner (iPad mini)

So, when should the new Retina iPad mini be expected?

If you ask Topeka Capital Markets analyst Brian White, these upcoming iPads – both the iPad mini 2 and iPad 5 – are due next month. His peer over at KGI Securities, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, is calling for a Fall launch, per his latest Apple roadmap estimate depicted below.

kuo_2013_apple_roadmap

Apple typically announces new iPads during the first quarter. The firm, however, broke that tradition by releasing the iPad 4 alongside the iPad mini in September 2012, just six months after the third-generation iPad went on sale.

Should the semi-annual refresh pattern hold, both the iPad mini and its bigger brother could be ripe for a March refresh, meaning Apple could be sending out the invites sooner than later.

Faster innards and a Retina upgrade should make the iPad mini 2 a compelling buy, no?