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Apple is planning to launch a smaller iPad to deal with a flurry of rivals that are trying to eat away at its market share in tablets with lower prices and smaller devices, anonymous sources say.

The new Apple tablet will have a 7.85-inch screen and it will sell for significantly less than the $499 iPad, which has a 9.7-inch retina display, according to the New York Times, which cited unnamed sources. Apple declined to comment on the report to the Times.

The device is meant to compete with the latest rivals, which includes Google’s Nexus 7, Amazon’s Kindle Fire, and the upcoming Microsoft Surface tablet coming out later this year. All of that new competition is aimed at dividing the monolithic tablet market into smaller segments. The New York Times had few details on the tablet, which the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg have dubbed the “mini iPad” in the past.

Apple currently sells its second-generation iPad for $399, but it has no offering at the $199 price that Google and Amazon have targeted. It will be interesting to see if consumers will prefer the smaller-screen devices, which are too large to fit in pants pockets, but are not a bad size for women’s purses. The strategy to diversify the product line-up is like the effort to defend the iPod’s market via a variety of devices from the tiny iPod Shuffle to the full-size iPod Touch.

Apple currently has about 60 percent to 70 percent of the tablet market.

[Photo credit: Apple]

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