CUPERTINO -- Apple (AAPL) has begun producing a smaller version of its popular iPad tablet computer, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Rumors of a so-called iPad Mini have been rampant for months, as analysts and journalists have reported Apple will release a smaller tablet that would directly compete with the lower-priced options on the market, such as Amazon's Kindle Fire and Google's (GOOG) Nexus 7. Apple has repeatedly refused to comment on the reports.

According to Wednesday's report in the Journal, which is based on anonymous sources within Apple's Asian supply chain, LG Display and AU Optronics began producing 7.85-inch LCD screens for Apple last month and workers have begun mass production of the new devices. All of the iPad models Apple has produced so far have a screen that measures slightly less than 10 inches diagonally.

The Journal reported in July that Asian suppliers were gearing up to produce the "iPad Mini," and analysts believe that the move would allow Apple to keep the stranglehold it currently owns on the tablet market.

"We view the potential addition of the 'iPad Mini' as a long-term positive for Apple's iPad franchise and necessary to keep competitors from trying to control the lower price point segment of the market," Topeka Capital analyst Brian White said last summer.


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Late Apple cofounder Steve Jobs famously denounced a smaller iPad model as late as 2010, when he said "One naturally thinks that a 7-inch screen would offer 70 percent of the benefits of a 10-inch screen. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. ... The reason we won't make a 7-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."

Fortune magazine reported earlier this week that Apple will unveil the iPad Mini at an event Oct. 10 and begin selling the device Oct. 17.

Contact Jeremy C. Owens at 408-920-5876; follow him at Twitter.com/mercbizbreak.