The iPad is shown after it was unveiled at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

London - Apple is preparing to launch a smaller version of the multi-million selling iPad, it was claimed on Thursday.

The little brother of the tablet device would measure fewer than eight inches across the diagonal – considerably smaller than the current 9.7-inch model – and be cheaper.

It was also suggested what has been dubbed the “iPad Mini” could be available in the autumn – in time for Christmas.

Apple is notoriously secretive about its technical innovations and rumours of the smaller tablet are said to have originated from the Far East, where many of the company’s devices are manufactured.

They were reported by Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal, which quoted several unnamed sources within Apple’s supply chain. A UK spokesman last night said: “Apple does not comment on rumour or speculation.”

The current iPad costs upwards of £399 (about R4 800) and industry insiders said an “iPad Mini” would be an obvious response to competition from rival tablets such as Google’s seven-inch £159 Nexus 7.

Far Eastern technology blogs also hinted that a launch by Apple was imminent. Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu predicts that the move would be a devastating blow for Android competitors. “It would be the competitors’ worst nightmare,” he said.

The late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who died last October, was vehemently against a smaller iPad, saying in 2010: “The reason we won’t make a seven-inch tablet isn’t because we don’t want to hit a lower price point, it’s because we think the screen is too small to express the software.” - Daily Mail