Rumor: Apple making six million sub-$300 iPad minis for third-quarter launch

According to a new report out of China, Apple is allegedly looking to launch a 7.85-inch iPad model some time in the third quarter of this year. The device is said to be priced between $249 and $299, an obvious effort to compete with Amazon’s $199 Kindle Fire that launched last holiday to become by far the most popular Android tablet.

However, the iPad mini is said to be primarily intended to “counter attack” upcoming tablets running Windows 8. If the rumor is true, than the low-cost iPad mini is going after the low-to-mid-end of the tablet market.

But does a miniaturized iPad sound like something Apple would even consider doing?

According to a Chinese report translated by Kotaku, six million units of the aggressively priced iPad mini could launch some time in the third quarter:

NetEase claimed that the device will be released around the third quarter of this year to “counter attack” the upcoming Windows tablets. The report further claims that the devices will cost anywhere from US$249 to $299 and that there will be an initial 6 million units ready for launch.

The story has it that Foxconn, Apple’s favorite contract manufacturer, will assemble the iPad mini, in addition to Pegatron, another contract manufacturer thought to have landed a smaller portion of iPad mini orders.

Together, the two Asian manufacturing powerhouses will assemble six million launch units, the original article asserts.

In case you were wondering, here’s what a 7.85-inch iPad would look like next to its 9.7-inch sibling.

Well-connected Apple proponent John Gruber recently hinted that a 7.85-inch iPad exists inside Apple’s labs, though he is unsure when or if it will see the light of day. The device apparently runs at a 1,024-by-768 pixel resolution and is exactly the same as iPad 2, only smaller.

So, is a miniaturized iPad mini just a pipe dream or a valid proposition?

Hard to tell.

What we do know is that Apple likes to keep things simple.

From the onset, the company’s been offering just one screen size of 3.5 inches for its iPhone smartphone and iPod touch personal media player, opting to up the screen resolution rather than blow up the display size.

The latter is exactly what the Android camp’s been doing a lot. A huge display doesn’t just look nice in commercials, it’s also the key perceived differentiator over the iPhone.

With the iPad mini, Apple is expected to do the opposite – that is, shrink the device so it costs less to produce and therefore becomes more affordable to a wider range of price-conscious consumers.

We also know Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs was never fond of the idea, famously dissing seven inchers by joking those would need to ship with sandpaper so users could sand down their fingers in order to hit tiny icons on the screen.

Jobs famously told Wall Street analysts on a conference call:

There are clear limits to how close elements can be on the screen before users can’t touch accurately. We believe 10-inch screen is minimum necessary.

However, AppAdvice dug deeper and discovered that a 7.85-inch display running at a 1,204-by-768 pixel resolution would carry a pixel density of 163 pixels per inch.

That’s exactly the same pixel density as the non-Retina iPhone.

Existing apps and user interface elements rendered at this screen size and pixel density would still honor Apple’s interface guidelines, meaning apps written for the first-generation iPad and iPad 2 would run natively and wouldn’t need to be recompiled or redesigned to work on the rumored iPad mini.

Was Jobs exaggerating? Would you consider a 7.85-inch iPad or do you think a screen this small would strain your eyes and make navigation harder?