[caption id="attachment_4929" align="aligncenter" width="500"] An iPad Mini could ignite a full-on tablet war just in time for the holidays.[/caption] Current rumor suggests that Apple is gearing up to unveil its iPad Mini Oct. 17, with invitations to media arriving Oct. 10. That’s according to Fortune, which obtained the information from an unnamed Apple investor who, in turn, heard those dates from other unnamed sources. While that attribution might prove a bit too vaporous for some people, it does align with earlier reports from AllThingsD that Apple is planning to reveal a smaller iPad sometime in October. If those rumors prove accurate, the unveiling of an iPad Mini in that timeframe could prove very bad news for the upcoming Windows 8 tablets. (Gizmodo offers a pretty complete rumor rundown on the iPad Mini’s possible features here.) Microsoft is launching Windows 8 on Oct. 25, which gives its manufacturing partners time to release a plethora of PCs and tablets in time for the holiday shopping season. It’s a near-certainty that Microsoft will mirror its strategy from previous Windows releases and accompany Windows 8 with a suitably massive ad campaign—one buttressed by various manufacturing partners’ own marketing pushes. A major part of that strategy will focus on Windows 8 on tablets. In contrast to previous Windows versions, which relied on a desktop-style user interface, Windows 8’s Start screen is a grid of colorful tiles linked to applications. At least in theory, that makes the operating system easy to use on touch-screen tablets in addition to traditional desktops and laptops. But unlike the traditional PC market, Microsoft doesn’t dominate the market for mobile-device operating systems. Windows 7 tablets never gained much of a toehold among tablet users, who prefer iPads and Android-based devices by wide margins. When it comes to Windows 8 (and Windows RT, the version of next-generation Windows for ARM architecture), Microsoft is starting out as the underdog. And an underdog prospers best when the big dog in the yard underestimates its strength, or ignores it entirely. Instead, Apple possibly selecting late October as the date for a new iPad unveiling feels like the big dog deciding to do something about a threat. Critics will argue that the tablet market is fundamentally a long game, and that Apple releasing an iPad Mini will have precious little effect on Windows 8’s long-term prospects. That could be true—but forcing holiday consumers to decide between a shiny new product from a well-established brand in the space (Apple’s iPad) and a new and relatively untested one (Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets) could complicate matters for Microsoft and its manufacturing partners during a crucial initial rollout, especially if the latter was betting on a relatively unimpeded run of the space. Amazon’s new Kindle Fire tablets and Google’s Nexus 7 could complicate things still further for Windows 8. All that being said, Apple has given precious little indication that it intends to release a smaller iPad alongside the current 9.7-inch model. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously railed against 7-inch tablets in an October 2010 earnings call, denigrating that screen size as too small. “We think about software strategies first, as we know that software developers aren’t going to deal well with all these different-size products,” he added. However, Jobs could have warmed to the idea sometime between that earnings call and his death a year later. On top of that, rivals such as Google and Amazon have scored notable victories with 7-inch tablets, which could compel Apple to make a show of force in that subcategory.   Image: Brian A. Jackson/Shutterstock.com