The last time Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) was rumored to be releasing a mini-iPad, we got the "new iPad" (aka iPad 3). (See: Behind Apple's Alleged Move to Small Screens.)
Net result: same size, better display.
A new spate of mini-iPad reports is surfacing, fueling speculation behind Apple's strategy. Is it competing with Microsoft's Surface, Google's Nexus, Amazon's Kindle Fire, or Samsung's Galaxy smartphones? Is Apple providing a broader tablet array for its already-converted iFans? Or is trying to reach a price point that won't discourage new buyers when the next "new" iPad (iPad 4?) renders the last "new" iPad (iPad 3) obsolete?
The answer is in the screen, which has as much speculation behind it as the mini-iPad itself.
Various media reports have
LG Display, AU Optronics, or
Sharp manufacturing the mini's display. Notably absent is Samsung, which is the largest manufacturer of the Retina display, featured in the iPad 3. (LG and Sharp manufacture limited quantities of the Retina.)
Here's what we know about LG Display and AU: they focus primarily on LCD screens and tend to be price leaders in the LCD screen market. Sharp, which has been struggling, recently received a large cash infusion from Foxconn Electronics, which also manufactures Apple's smartphones and iPads. Sharp is also likely to be cost competitive: Foxconn is a vertically integrated company, which means its manufacturing arm gets preferred pricing from its component businesses. I doubt that Sharp will be any different.
Most of the speculation around the mini-iPad is a price point that will cause its competitors apoplexy (in other words, less than $500 -- much less). If AU, LG, or Sharp (or all three) are making the screens -- the single most expensive component on any tablet, smartphone, or mobile device -- look for a mini priced below the iPad. LCD is still a great technology and only gets better as screens get smaller.
Net result: smaller size, decent display.
Also more affordable.