TOKYO, Nov. 2 (Kyodo) — The iPad mini, a smaller version of the popular iPad multi-purpose tablet computer by Apple Inc., hit stores Friday in Japan and other leading markets as competition further intensifies ahead of the year-end shopping spree.

While global sales of tablet computers are expected to top 100 million units by the end of 2012, with the launch of the new product, Apple will try to solidify its dominant position in the burgeoning market, where Kindle Fire by, Inc., to be sold in Japan in December, and Nexus 7 by Google Inc. are seen as its major rivals.

In the Japanese tablet market, Apple has secured a 57 percent share as of September, followed by Sony Corp.'s 10 percent, according to market research firm BCN Inc.

Touted for its greater portability, the iPad mini weighs only about half of its full-size cousin at 308 grams and is 20 percent slimmer at 7.2 millimeters thick.

Available in black or white color, it features a 7.9-inch display, slightly bigger compared to the two rival brands' 7-inch.

A suggested retail price for the iPad mini with 16 gigabyte internal storage, capable of accessing Wi-Fi networks, starts at 28,800 yen.

The retail price is higher than the two tablet computers of Amazon and Google, with those companies setting their prices at 15,800 yen and 19,800 yen, respectively.

The iPad mini with cellular connectivity, accommodating Long Term Evolution high-speed internet services, is scheduled to be released in Japan in late November by Softbank Corp. and KDDI Corp., the provider of mobile communication services under the brand name of "au."

The model with cellular connectivity will be available from 39,800 yen.

It is the first time that KDDI has marketed Apple's iPad lineup, cracking Softbank's monopoly, after the provider of "au" services did so on iPhones when it started selling them in October last year.