At 6pm tonight, Apple boss Tim Cook is set to take to the stage in a San Jose theatre to introduce Apple’s latest blockbuster product - a mini tablet set to fend off competition from Amazon’s Kindle Fire and a raft of relatively cheap smaller tablet computers.

The shrunken iPad is rumoured to have a screen that is 7.8inches across the diagonal – which compares to 9.7 on the original version.

Tech watchers suggest the device – like the latest incarnation of the iPhone – will work on the superfast 4G mobile network that will launch next week in the UK. Interest in the new gadget has been huge - with monitoring firm Experian Hitwise saying 1 in every 6000 UK internet searches last week were for the iPad mini.

Piper Jaffray technology analyst Gene Munster said in a note to investors that he expects the iPad mini to launch on 2 November.  The firm believes Apple could sell 5 million iPad minis in the December quarter, but that will be at the expense of 1 million 9.7in iPads.

‘For every 5 million smaller iPads, you lose 1 million standard iPads,’ Munster wrote.

Apple is said to be planning to charge £200 for the smaller version, which is around half the price of the cheapest iPad 3.

However, it will remain considerably more expensive than Amazon’s Kindle Fire, which costs £129, and the higher specification Kindle Fire HD, which is £159. Amazon has suggested it is selling its tablets at a loss in order to get it into the hands of families.

The idea is that it can then cash in through sales of a vast library of books, music, films and TV programmes.                  –DM