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iPad Mini may be unveiled on Oct. 23 — stealing limelight from Microsoft’s Surface

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Most recently in the iPad Mini rumor mill, we heard that Apple was going to send out invites on October 10 for an event on the 17th. Well that date has come and gone without a peep from Apple.

Now it looks like the company may be aiming for a launch event later on October 23, sources tell All Things Digital. Given Apple’s history, invites will likely be sent out next week.

It’s particularly interesting that Apple would launch its smaller iPad at the end of this month, because that’s right before Microsoft’s bevy of product launches. Microsoft’s Surface tablet will begin shipping just three days later on the 26th, which is also when the software giant is launching Windows 8, its new operating system meant for desktops, laptops, and tablets.

Apple’s timing certainly isn’t coincidental — the iPad Mini is the perfect thing to deflect attention from Microsoft’s Surface, a device that’s still mostly shrouded in mystery since its unveiling in June. Back then, Microsoft was criticized for not having pricing or availability details for the Surface. Now, with a few weeks left to go, we still don’t have official pricing. (Microsoft chief exec Steve Ballmer off-handedly mentioned that Surface could go between $300 and $800.)

The iPad Mini, which is expected to feature a 7.85-inch display to compete with the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD, will likely sell for $250 to $300. For tablet shoppers on a budget, it could end up being more tempting to holiday shoppers than the Surface.

“I think the timing is more than coincidental,” said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates, in an e-mail to VentureBeat. “But I also think that Apple wants to say look, we are the kings of the tablet world and let’s see what you guys have to try and knock us off. So far, the competition has been pretty weak.”

Gold added, “But one thing Apple has been hearing loud and clear is that one size does not fit all, and there is real pent-up demand for a smaller 7 inch device. So they are announcing a pre-emptive strike to get ahead of the holiday buying season and lock in a lot of potential “other” purchasers.”

iPad Mini mockup via Macotakara