[caption id="attachment_5158" align="aligncenter" width="429"] Apple's iOS is locked in a fierce struggle with Android and, soon, Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.[/caption] The first time around, the rumor was that Apple would roll out the “iPad Mini” Oct. 17, with invitations arriving in media inboxes Oct. 10. That information came from Fortune, which claimed as its source an unnamed Apple investor. Of course, Oct. 10 came and went with no invitations in sight. And now the target date’s shifted: AllThingsD is claiming (via unnamed “people familiar with Apple’s plans”) that the smaller iPad will debut Oct. 23, with the company’s Town Hall Auditorium as a possible venue. Rumors are vague about the iPad Mini’s possible features and pricing; it will certainly compete against the Kindle Fire and Google’s Nexus 7 for dominance of the 7-inch tablet category. Should that date prove correct—Apple itself has announced nothing—then it could complicate things still further for Microsoft, which plans on launching Windows 8 at the end of that same week. Windows 8 represents Microsoft’s bid to solidify its dominance of PC operating systems while making significant inroads into tablets, where the iPad and a variety of Google Android devices rule the market. In contrast to previous versions of Windows, which centered on a desktop-style user interface, Windows 8 features a Start screen composed of colorful tiles linked to applications, the better to tap with a finger. On top of that, Windows 8 offers features familiar to anyone who’s ever used a mobile operating system such as iOS or Android: there’s an app store, for example, and the ability to store user files in the cloud. Microsoft has spent the past several months encouraging third-party developers to build apps for the Windows platform, arguing that the massive user base will make any such effort immensely profitable. In a change from its previous strategy of offering software to its hardware partners, Microsoft is taking a page from Apple and building its flagship Windows 8 tablet in-house. This “Surface” tablet will come in two flavors: one running Windows 8 Pro powered by a third-generation Intel Core processor, and another the ARM-based Windows RT. Both Surface tablets will include 10.6-inch screens with a kickstand and flexible cover that doubles as a keyboard. Tablets are relatively new territory for Microsoft, and a couple weeks or months of relatively unimpeded space—free of high-profile rivals rolling out competing products—might have benefitted its attempts to establish itself. But if the rumors are correct, Apple’s not going to give Microsoft that chance.   Image: Apple