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Sound-isolating headphones let you really hear your own voice

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Image: Mashable, Pete Pachal

LAS VEGAS — Have you ever worn noise-canceling headphones and wished they were, you know, not so noise-canceling?

That’s the idea behind OnVocal Mix360, a pair of behind-the-neck headphones that let you adjust exactly what you hear.

The headphones themselves are sound-isolating, passively blocking out most ambient noise. But the magic happens when you pair your Mix360 with the accompanying app (iOS and Android), which lets you adjust the levels of the three sounds you’re experiencing: the music you’re listening to, the ambient noise and your own voice.

OnVocal Mix360 app
The Mix360 app has sliders for adjusting exactly how much ambient noise you want to hear.

Image: Mashable, Pete Pachal

You control all three inputs with sliders on the app. When you make an adjustment, the Mix360’s three microphones go to work, bringing in the sounds you want to hear — similar to Bose’s noise-canceling earbuds.

You might want to go completely music-only for the duration of a subway ride, for example, but then turn up the ambient noise when you get to where you’re going — to avoid any unfortunate collisions.

Trying out the Mix360 at CES 2105, I came away impressed with how well it did its job. It did take a second for the adjustments to kick in — but when they did, a noise-filled ballroom went from muffled to crystal clear. There is a bit of artificiality to the sound at first, but that sensation quickly goes away.

When you turn up your own voice, you’re in for a surprise. The headphones render it in the way that others hear it, not you. “Do I really sound like that?” will likely be your first question.

The Bluetooth device is rated at 9 hours of battery life for music listening. The Mix360 will be available in May, but you might not like the sound of the price tag: $299.

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Apple Sells Out of All iPad Mini Models

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Apple iPad mini

Apple has sold out of its initial inventory of all iPad Mini models just three days after the new device became available for pre-order online.

The shipping times for all three Wi-Fi versions of the black and white iPad Mini have now been pushed back to two weeks, indicating that the initial stock is sold out. The LTE-enabled iPad Mini models have not yet gone on sale.

Apple worried some investors with its decision to the price the new 7.9 inch tablets starting at $329, significantly more than competing tablets like the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire, but the sales so far suggest that demand for the iPad Mini is strong even with the higher price.

Have you ordered an iPad Mini? Let us know in the comments below.

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Apple Patents the Virtual Page Turn

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Apple is now the proud owner of the page turn.

In a patent approved this week by the United States Patent Office Apple was awarded a design patent for “Display screen or portion thereof with animated graphical user interface.”

The patent illustration shows three images: One with the corner of a page being turned slightly, the next with it halfway, and a third showing the page almost entirely turned over.

A feature used in Apple’s iBooks, and books in general, the patent represents one of 38 different patents granted to Apple this week.

The New York Times points out that this isn’t the first “seemingly obvious” patent that Apple has been awarded. Previously the company was granted a patent for the musical note icon it uses to represent iTunes and the glass staircase it uses it stores.

Over the past several years Apple has made quite a few headlines for its involvement in patent suits against other device makers.

Earlier this year Apple won a patent lawsuit against Samsung, walking away with $1 billion in restitution, and has recently made moves to go after Samsung products that were released after that court ruling, including the Galaxy Note 10.1.

Earlier this week it settled a different patent case with handset maker HTC with a 10-year licensing agreement of patents held by both companies reportedly requiring HTC to pay Apple $6-$8 per Android handset it sells.

Should Apple have been awarded a patent for the page turn? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Thumbnail Image courtesy of iStockphoto, kertlis Patent Image: US Patent and Trademark Office

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/16/apple-page-turn-patent/

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Microsoft Plans to Ship Up to 5 Million Surface Tablets This Quarter

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It has been a busy week for the tablet industry — and it’s just Tuesday.

Apple sent out an invitation to a press event where the iPad mini is believed to be released, casting a shadow on Microsoft’s Surface ship date, coming Oct. 26.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Microsoft placed an order for 3 million to 5 million tablets, similar to amount of tablets orders placed for Google’s Nexus 7 tablet and Amazon’s Kindle Fire. Component suppliers have also said that Apple placed orders for 10 million smaller versions of the iPad.

As the battle for the tablet market reaches a peak this month, the Pew Research Center announced than 25% of Adults in the U.S. own a tablet computer.

Which are you more excited for, the Surface or the suspected iPad Mini? Let us know in the comments.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/10/16/surface-tablets/

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Why the iPod Still Matters to Apple

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Apple was widely expected to announce a press event for a brand new product on Wednesday — the iPad Mini. Instead, the company doubled down on an old and sometimes overlooked product, the iPod.

Apple aired a new commercial for the iPod on Wednesday night, which was the first new iPod ad since November of last year, according to TBWA/Media Arts Lab, the agency behind it.

The commercial is the latest sign that Apple isn’t giving up on the 11-year old product just yet. Apple announced a major refresh of the iPod line last month, updating the iPod Touch with a bigger screen and several new color offerings, and releasing a much thinner iPod Nano with built-in fitness features.

The iPod re-energized Apple’s brand in the early 2000’s and helped kick start its transformation from struggling has-been to the world’s most valuable company. In recent years though, the iPod has taken a back seat behind Apple’s two other hugely successful mobile i-Products, the iPhone and iPad. The ads showing silhouettes dancing to music on their iPods are a distant memory, replaced now by lonely celebrities yammering to Siri on the iPhone.

Even though the iPhone and iPad now account for far more of Apple’s revenue than the iPod, the line of music players does still have a role to play in Apple’s business.

A Billion Dollar Business

For the most part, iPod sales have declined year-over-year since 2008 — the year after Apple released the original iPhone — but the product still brings in more than $1 billion in revenue each quarter for the company.

Apple sold 6.8 million iPods in the June quarter of this year, resulting in $1.06 billion in revenue. That represents about 3% of Apple’s overall $35 billion in revenue for the quarter, but it’s still more than the company makes from software and peripherals.

However, those numbers don’t give a complete picture about the value of the iPod.

Dominating the MP3 Player Market

As Apple pointed out in its last earnings call, the iPod continues to dominate the market for portable music players, making up more than 70% of the market in the U.S. Some might roll their eyes at the idea that Apple touts being the leader of a market that it itself is cannibalizing. That said, the iPod continues to be one of the leading ways that people consume music.

According to the most recent data from the NPD Group, 43% of online users 13 and older listen to music on portable music players, a category that does not include smartphones or tablets. The same percentage of those surveyed say they consume music through online radio services. So the iPod dominates a means of music consumption that is as popular as Pandora and Spotify.

Russ Crupnick, an analyst covering the entertainment and music industries for NPD Group, suggests that part of the reason for this is that many consumers continue to prefer to have a “dedicated music device” for specific use cases.

“Apple has usage situations that are unique to the form factor of the iPod,” Crupnick told Mashable. For example, many consumers may be more comfortable taking the iPod Shuffle to the gym than their iPhone, for fear of losing or breaking the latter, not to mention the fact that the Shuffle is smaller.

A Gateway to Apple’s Ecosystem

Perhaps the biggest reason that the iPod is still useful to Apple is that it serves as a gateway to its brand, and more importantly, its ecosystem of products.

Crupnick and NPD have found that the iPod and iPod Touch are far more popular among children 14 and younger than the iPhone, iPad or Android smartphones. In total, about 28% of U.S. households surveyed by NPD say their children use iPods and iPod Touches regularly, compared to 7.4% for iPhone and 7.5% for iPad. The iPod Touch is particularly popular among those at the upper end of that age bracket.

“When the kid starts to get older and deserves their own device, parents aren’t spending the money on a full-blown tablet, or on a data plan, but an iPod Touch is a perfect compromise,” Crupnick said. As a result, he says that the iPod gives Apple a way to reach younger consumers.

Children aren’t the only demographic that Apple can reach with the iPod. As Crupnick points out, half of Americans still don’t own smartphones. “There are lots of people who think the economics of a smartphone don’t make sense, or they don’t have a need for it, or else the kids are a little too young or the adults are a little too old,” Crupnick says. For many of these consumers, an iPod — or more likely an iPod Touch — can serve as a substitute.

What’s more, considering that the iPod Touch is essentially an identical experience to the iPhone minus the data plan, it may just condition some of these hesitant consumers to eventually transition to the iPhone, which is now Apple’s core business, even if it’s not as exciting as a new iPad Mini.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/10/11/apple-ipod-ads/

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What’s Next For Google’s Nexus Brand Of Devices?

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When Google introduces a new Nexus-series device, we know we’ll have a fresh Android revision to play with, along with all the new features and improvements that arrive with such a release. But that’s only a part of what makes Nexus models so captivating.

Google’s been taking full advantage of the high-profile spot these devices take to draw attention to new hardware, which we often see subsequently adopted by manufacturers all across the Android spectrum. You can call it “Google leading the direction the market’s heading,” or just acting as inspiration, but there’s no doubt that its Nexus hardware often serves as a trend-setter. With the Nexus 7 now a reality, our thoughts are already turning to the next Nexus device (the Nextus?), and we find ourselves asking, “just what might Google be planning for its future Nexus hardware?”

Taking Stock: Past Nexus Models

For starters, let’s look at what Google’s accomplished with its Nexus devices so far. The HTC-made Nexus One was bound to hold a special place in the Android history books, solely by nature of being the first smartphone of its kind. With the phone’s release, Google set the bar for the level of software support we’d continue to see with the rest of its Nexus lineup, featuring front-line exposure to the latest Android releases often weeks — if not months — before any other phones receive similar manufacturer support.

As for the Nexus One hardware itself, it may not have offered many brand-new features, but it highlighted a few key manufacturing choices that were just then becoming more important. It featured an early AMOLED screen, exposing users to the kind of great contrast such components offer. There was also a big focus on reducing handset thickness. It’s easy to forget just how chunky some early Androids were, and measuring more than half-an-inch thick was par for the course; the Nexus One slimmed things down to just under 12 millimeters, and things have only been shrinking since.

Switching manufacturing partners to Samsung, Google continued this trend with the Nexus S in late 2010. The handset was one of the first smartphones around to support NFC (a feature we’re still waiting to see widespread acceptance). It highlighted the importance of ergonomics with its Contour Display curved screen, and was an early example of the move manufacturers have been making away from microSD support.

The Motorola Xoom has special relevance as the first Honeycomb tablet, and while it continues to get Nexus-level software support, as a non-Nexus device, it’s a bit outside the scope we’re dealing with here.

The Galaxy Nexus introduced many of us to 720p displays on phones, and invited manufacturers to do away with hardware Android buttons on their handsets in favor of on-screen software controls. More recently, the Nexus 7 gave us a similar example of Google removing unneeded hardware, this time the rear camera. While that’s reportedly a cost-saving decision, rather than a pure design choice, it’s encouraging manufacturers to look past the status quo, and really think individually about just what features each device really needs.

In What Direction Is Google Steering Android’s Future?

OK, that brings us pretty much up to date. So, where do we go from here?

Some of the things Google’s done, like axing hardware Android buttons, are the type of change that’s going to be hugely tricky to predict. On the other hand, there are some hardware innovations just coming to the forefront of smartphone design that Google could always grab and run with.

We’re going to be seeing 1080p screens in smartphones in the near future, and there’s still a lot of confusion regarding them. Largely, we’re just not sure how much use they’ll actually be, or if we’ll even be capable of readily appreciating the improved resolution. Maybe Google will adopt such a component for the next Nexus, and make a point to deliver it alongside software that finally convinces us of the value of such super-high-res displays.

Google hasn’t really used Nexus devices to push next-generation SoCs, and we’re not sure there’s any reason for it to start now. Chances are, we’ll be looking at a bit of a cool-down in the race for cores, with manufacturers settling on quad- or dual-core designs for now and focusing more on improving things like power consumption and execution efficiency.

What about RAM? The move to 2GB feels like it should have been a bigger deal than it was, and its recent arrival on a couple Androids (like the GS3) didn’t get much fanfare. By the time the next Nexus arrives, we’ll likely have seen even more phones debut with this kind of memory, but maybe Google can still find a way to make it special; that doesn’t necessarily mean adding even more RAM, but it could try something with higher speed, lower latency components, or introduce changes to Android that let it take advantage of such a glut of memory in more impressive ways.

Google may not see a need for a big camera on a tablet, but smartphones are another beast entirely; maybe Google will try to bring the kind of imaging quality we see on the Nokia PureView 808 to Android. Perhaps it could even try something a bit out-there, like pairing such a powerful image sensor with a standardized way to attach mini add-on lenses, extending the phone’s abilities as a camera even farther.

Then there’s the issue of just how the next Nexus will be made. We’ve heard rumors that Google might be planning to team up with multiple manufacturers for a series of Nexus models, all arriving at once. Would each one come up with their own take on a similar design, or would each focus on just a few key elements? Maybe LG would have the 1080p Nexus, and Sony would have the super-camera Nexus?

There are a ton of directions Google could take with its next phone. We could keep guessing up until the model’s actually revealed, and still never hit on just what the company’s been planning. Whatever it is, though, you can bet that the rest of the Android world will be watching closely, and be ready to follow Google’s lead.

Thanks: Pocketnow staff
Image: XDA-Developers forum

This article originally published at Pocketnow
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/07/21/next-nexus/

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Apple, It’s Time to Make Something New

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Mashable OP-ED: This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.

Something truly astonishing happened in San Francisco Wednesday. And it had nothing to do with the iPhone 5 launch.

In the blue above the city, three skywriting jets hired by an artist and a design company wrote the first 10,000 numbers of Pi — yes, 3.14159 and 9,994 more — in dot-matrix numerals a quarter-mile high.

Carefully coordinating each plane to write every third character, they looped the number-string 150 miles around the Bay Area, a feat that made geeks everywhere gasp and think of three more characters: O, M and G.

Meanwhile, down on the ground, a technology company released a phone that was a little bit taller.

I don’t mean to begrudge Apple‘s big day. The launch event was a lot of fun. The iPhone 5 is a superior gadget with plenty of under-the-hood incremental innovations, and seems certain to become the world’s bestselling smartphone. The LTE battery life thing is a cool achievement. We get it. If I were on the iPhone 4 two-year upgrade cycle, rather than being halfway through my 4S contract, I’d probably be lining up for one come Sept. 21.

But the “Pi in the Sky” project served as a timely reminder of how much technology can awe and inspire, and that technology companies should try hard to make new things that push the boundaries of that. In fact, it put me in mind of Sergey Brin’s fantastic aerial display at Google I/O.

At that launch event, the Google co-founder bounded on to stage, in an unscripted moment that would make Tim Cook blanche, and asked us if we would like to see a demonstration of his mysterious experimental glasses-with-a-tiny-screen project, Google Glass. Why yes, Sergey, yes we would.

We were rewarded with a jaw-dropping live stream from the glasses of skydivers in a Zeppelin, one of the world’s only three Zeppelins, which happened to be flying right over our heads. The skydivers parachuted onto our roof, jumped on bikes, did tricks, then zoomed into the hall to deliver the glasses. And the crowd went wild.

A stunt? Certainly. But it spoke of the daring risk that Google is taking with Project Glass, an entirely new kind of user interface. The kind of roll of the innovation dice that it’s unfortunately hard to imagine Apple making under its current leadership.

The world’s most valuable company has chosen to play it very safe indeed, throwing all its engineering know-how into microscopic levels of innovation in a handful of hardware products. What’s the only new Apple gadget on the horizon for sure right now? A smaller iPad.

And that’s great. More power to them. I can’t wait to see the iPad Mini either. But at some point soon, Apple might have to look around and admit it has ceded the title of Silicon Valley’s most innovative and inspiring company to Google.

As a loyal Apple user who can’t bear to imagine Android fans getting that smug, I implore Tim Cook: Please don’t let that happen.

Tim Cook’s Walter White Moment

If you’re a Breaking Bad fan, you know this recent and resonant scene (spoiler alert) where Skylar White drags her husband to a storage locker. Here she’s been keeping his surplus cash, spraying it for silverfish, unable to count it because each bundle is stuffed with too many denominations. Skylar turns to Walt and asks: Is this, finally, enough?

(Not quite a spoiler alert:) It does the trick.

I’d like to think that at some point Tim Cook will be taken to a storage locker, or rather an aircraft hangar, and shown the entire pile of Apple’s cash on hand. The company had $100 billion just sitting around in early 2012, and that could grow to $200 billion in 2013.

Apple has grudgingly announced it will start to give $45 billion of that to shareholders, in the form of dividends and stock buybacks (the latter is more an investment for Apple than a giveaway). For the rest, it won’t account.

You can look at this all sorts of ways, but economists tend to get very frustrated at the fact that Apple simply refuses to reinvest this money in the economy — take chances, grow the company, design lots of new things, hire lots and lots of people to make and sell them.

That’s the way money is supposed to work. That’s the way it has worked, historically, in America. And when the world’s most valuable corporations choose to sit on their hoards like feudal lords — especially at a time of high unemployment — the economy suffers. People suffer. And Apple itself suffers, because it’s leaving even greater growth on the table.

It makes sense that Tim Cook would want to keep a healthy hedge against the future, a rainy day fund. Like Walter White, he’s been burned. The scars of 1997 and ’98, when the company was teetering on the edge of going out of business, are still there.

Cook was the inventory guy Steve Jobs hired to fix that problem, and he became the master of delivering just a few products in massive quantities very quickly. This was what part of what took Apple from zero to $100 billion in 14 years.

But the other half was innovation. Specifically, a leader who worshipped it. Who invented entirely new product categories. Who would constantly pepper Jonathan Ive, Apple’s design chief, with product proposals that began: “Hey Jony, here’s a dumb idea.”

Jobs was a restless innovator. Toward the end of his life, he was not only coming up with supposed breakthrough ideas for a television — the still-rumored iTV — he was sketching out designs for planes and boats that outshone those of his billionaire pal Larry Ellison.

The “just a few products” limitation was something Jobs imposed on the company reluctantly, as a way to make it focus, to get out of its rut. But he always wanted to stretch the limits of what technology could do — such as saving the music industry from itself.

Cook has earned the right to run the company the way he wants. And for all we know, Jobs-like innovations at the macro level continue quietly in the most secret bowels of Apple. (They’d have to be a whole lot more secret than the iPhone 5 features.)

But the signs don’t point to that. They point to a company that is spending just 2% of its revenue on R&D, is focused on exquisite tiny details (those shiny diamond-cut edges!) at the expense of big ideas, and is satisfied with being ever more dominant in a few categories with reiterated products.

Jobs’s comeback was Apple’s second act. Now comes its third, in which the old rules and careful constraints don’t apply. An act in which the company has to decide in what way to expand, now that it has so much cash it could build more than 50 Space Shuttles.

So here’s hoping we’ll see some moonshot product launches, ones that surprise and even risk making us laugh (remember how we joked about the iPad name?). Here’s hoping Apple gets what SpaceShipOne builder Burt Rutan once told me. “If you don’t have a consensus that it’s nonsense, you don’t have a breakthrough.”

Here’s hoping, even though — especially when — it’s pie in the sky.

BONUS: A Look at the iPhone 5

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Manchester United Bans iPads From Home Games

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A journalist takes photos with his iPad as FC Barcelona team players practice during a training session at Luzhniki stadium in Moscow, Russia, on Monday, Nov. 19, 2012.
Image: Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press

Bad news, Manchester United fans: You can no longer bring your iPads to home games.

Citing security advice, Manchester United announced Monday that large electronic items, “including laptops and tablets” have been added to an existing list of prohibited items for games played at the teams’s Old Trafford stadium. Manchester United is one of the wealthiest and most valuable soccer clubs in the world.

The team says it took its cues from UK airports (which, like U.S. airports, ban uncharged devices from coming on board planes). The team says that the configuration of the stadium would make it impractical for users to demonstrate that a device is genuine by powering it up upon request.

The teams says that a “large electronic device” is designated as one that is 150mm x 100mm (5.9 x 3.9 inches) in size and specifically cites the iPad and iPad mini as being banned. By our calculations, the size constraints mean that any tablet 7 inches or larger won’t be allowed into the stadium. For Manchester U fans who really like phablets — even giant phablets like the Samsung Galaxy Mega — you should be safe.

Smartphones and cameras are still allowed in the stadium as long as they don’t exceed the specified dimensions.

The no-tablet ban seems to be limited to Old Trafford for now. Other stadiums set their own regulations and rules. Manchester United says that the venue’s size and profile make it a bigger risk than other venues.

This isn’t the first time tablets have been banned from stadiums. The New York Yankees, which won’t even let users in with a commuter bag, banned iPads back in 2010. The team acquiesced in 2012, allowing spectators the ability to use the world’s most impractical mobile camera unfettered.

For now, fans seem to be reacting to the ban positively. It makes sense. Trying to enjoy a game if the person in front of you has a huge tablet in front of her face might be annoying.

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Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/08/12/manchester-united-ipad-ban/

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iPhone Case Doubles as a Stun Gun

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Looking to ward off attackers? Well, there’s no app for that, but there is this.

A couple of inventors in Baton Rouge, La., are offering limited-edition Yellow Jacket iPhone cases that double as stun guns.

The case will emit 650K volts, which is enough to take down an attacker. Not only that, but it will add 20 hours of battery life and come in three colors — black, white and pink. Prices start at $85 and there’s even a Family Pack of four for $380. However, you can only get those deals if you contribute at least $1 to Yellow Jacket’s Kickstarter-like funding program. The inventors — Seth Froom and Sean Simone — are trying to raise $100,000. So far, they’re about 5% of the way there. (And yes, an Android version is in the works.)

Before you rush to buy one, though, you might want to take note of your state’s laws regarding stun guns. The company provides a list of the states that prohibit the weapons when you order.

Another thing you might want to keep in mind is the possibility that the case may accidentally stun you while you’re making a call. The site offers some reassurance: “If used properly, the Yellow Jacket should not come in contact with any part of your body while on a phone call. Because stun guns have to essentially make contact with the skin in order to shock a human we designed the device to face up and away not down and in. The safety cover should also prevent unintentional shocks from occurring. There are always exceptions that we cannot account for. Please be mindful that this is not a traditional iPhone case!”

So, use with caution.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/07/12/iphone-case-stun-gun/

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iPad Mini Launch Event Coming Oct. 17

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Invitations to Apple’s next big event, announcing the highly-rumored iPad Mini, will be sent out on October 10. The event will follow a week later on October 17th, with the launch of the device coming shortly after on November 2nd.

All this according to a report in Fortune, which cites an Apple investor who has heard the dates from “multiple sources.”

Rumors have been circulating about an iPad Mini for some time, with many of those rumors pointing to an October product announcement.

Purported leaked photos of the pint-sized tablet show a 7.85-inch device with aluminum-back casing similar to the current iPad, a rear-facing camera, and Apple’s new lightning connector. The front of the tablet is thought to look much like the current iPad, with a black — or potentially white — bezel surrounding the screen and a home button at the bottom.

The iPad Mini is also expected to be less expensive than the current iPad, putting it against tablet’s such as the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire in the marketplace.

Traditionally secretive about it products, Apple has not acknowledged plans to create a smaller version of the iPad — nor has it officially indicated plans to have an event of any kind in October.

Will we see a smaller iPad later this month? Give us your prediction in the comments.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/10/01/ipad-mini-launch-october-17/