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Holiday Tablet Sales Seen Hot, As Buzz Builds For iPad Mini

Apple (AAPL) is preparing to announce an iPad Mini, as it and rivals get ready for what's sure to be a busy holiday season for tablets.

Media reports speculate that Apple will hold a press event on Oct. 17 to unveil its smaller tablet. It's likely to send out invitations to reporters on Oct. 10, Fortune and Mashable reported. Apple has not confirmed that it's building a smaller iPad.

This holiday season promises to be big for tablets, with new models from Amazon.com (AMZN), Barnes & Noble (BKS), Microsoft (MSFT) and Samsung.

Galaxy Ban Lifted On Tuesday, a U.S. federal court lifted a temporary sales ban vs. Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet won by Apple in a patent dispute.

The temporary injunction had been in place since June 26, ahead of a monthlong trial over patent infringement claims that Apple had brought against Samsung. The jury in the U.S. District Court for Northern California ruled in August that Samsung violated Apple's iPhone patents for its smartphones, but also ruled that Samsung had not violated the patent that was the basis for the tablet injunction.

Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 is its older model. Its current model is the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. Both tablets have 10.1-inch screens, hence the name. Samsung also sells a seven-inch model, the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0.

Apple's iPad has a 9.7-inch screen. The iPad Mini is thought to have a 7.85-inch screen.

Device makers say consumers are interested in smaller tablets that can easily fit inside a purse. They are seen more as casual media consumption devices, for watching videos, playing music and games, or surfing the Web.

New Nooks, Fire E-commerce leader Amazon leads the smaller-screen-tablet market with its seven-inch Amazon Kindle Fire, which debuted in November 2011. On Sept. 6, Amazon unveiled its second-generation tablets, the Kindle Fire HD family. Its entry level, seven-inch tablet costs $199. Amazon also came out with two models with 8.9-inch screens.

On Sept. 26, Barnes & Noble rolled out two new versions of its tablet. The seven-inch Nook HD costs $199 and the nine-inch Nook HD+ starts at $269.

The tablets from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Samsung run versions of Google's (GOOG) Android operating system. Not to be outdone, Google has its own branded tablet, the Nexus 7, a seven-inch tablet starting at $199.

Apple is likely to end the year with 66% market share, based on tablet unit shipments of 106 million, Pacific Crest Securities predicted Tuesday. The research firm sees Amazon second with 11%, followed by Samsung with 6%. It predicts Google will claim a 4% share, trailed by Microsoft and Asus with 3% each.

Microsoft will be a new entrant into the media tablet market. It's expected to begin selling its Surface tablets later this month, with prices starting at $299, according to the Pacific Crest report.

Microsoft shares rose 0.6%, while Apple climbed 0.3%. Google and Amazon dipped 0.6%.