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Apple rumored to begin production of 7.85" iPad in third quarter of 2012

A new rumor claims Apple's supply chain partners have begun delivering samples for a 7.85-inch iPad to the company in preparation for volume production that could start as early as the third quarter of 2012.

DigiTimes reported on Thursday that, according to industry sources, makers within Apple's iPad manufacturing system have sent over the samples for "verification." The publication wasn't entirely sure whether production would actually begin in the third quarter, but it called the possibility "likely."

Tipsters went on to suggest that the rumored smaller iPad could reach a price as low as $249-299. According to them, Apple will likely release an 8GB iPad 2 for between $349-399 and lower the price of the 16GB iPad 2 to $449.

Reports that Apple is investigating the possibility of a "mini" iPad have emerged out of Asia for some time. The Wall Street Journal gave a boost to the rumor's credibility last month when it reported that Apple officials have shown suppliers designs for an 8-inch iPad model. The device would reportedly have a similar screen resolution as the iPad 2 in spite of the smaller form factor.

The Journal did caution, however, that Apple may not have fully committed to the project yet and could ultimately scrap it.

Apple is poised to unveil its third-generation iPad at a media event in San Francisco next Wednesday. Invites for the event tease that the iPad maker has something "you really have to see…and touch."

Apple's March 7 event invitation, via The Loop.

The next-gen iPad is expected to sport a Retina Display with a resolution of 2,048 by 1,536 pixels. It will also likely have a faster processor and may include 4G LTE connectivity. Apple may be prepping for near-immediate availability of the device, as rumors coming out of China suggest that shipments of the so-called "iPad 3" are scheduled to arrive in the U.S. by March 9.