Apple may launch ‘iPad mini’ in early 2012 to fend off Kindle Fire

Apple may be working on a new entry-level tablet scheduled to launch early next year. In a note to investors on Wednesday, Ticonderoga Securities analyst Brian White recounted numerous meetings with technology supply chain companies at a trade show in China this week. White noted a general ominous environment, with the majority of the companies he met with commenting on weakening demand across the industry. “The whole world is shrinking,” one company representative told the analyst. Read on for more.

White’s meetings with Apple suppliers has turned up an interesting note, however. “Our research is pointing to the unveiling of a lower priced iPad in the first few months of 2012 that is aimed at expanding the company’s market potential by tapping into a more price sensitive consumer segment,” the analyst wrote. “Essentially, this ‘iPad mini’ will also fend off the recently announced Amazon (AMZN, $235.48, NR) Kindle Fire that addresses the low-end tablet market with a $199 price tag but could lead to bigger tablet ambitions from the online retailer in the future.”

White continued, noting that the “mini” moniker refers to the tablet’s lower price and not necessarily a smaller screen size. “We believe this lower priced iPad could be priced in the mid-to-high-$200 range,” White said. “We expect this will be followed by a much more powerful, feature rich standard-priced iPad 3 in 2Q12.”

White reiterated a Buy rating on Apple stock with a 12-month price target of $666.

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