You just can't keep a bad rumour down. In 2011, it was repeatedly rumoured that either iPad 3 would have a smaller-than-9.7-inch screen or that Apple would release a second iPad with a smaller screen. That didn't happen, so one can start rumouring about it all over again.
The Wall Street Journal reported in February that "Apple Inc. is working with component suppliers in Asia to test a new tablet computer with a smaller screen, people familiar with the situation said, as it looks to broaden its product pipeline amid intensifying competition and maintain its dominant market share."
And now new rumors swirl. "Rumors of an iPad Mini Swirl in China," according to the headline at Gawker's video game website, Kotaku.com, which picked up a Chinese language post from a mainland site, NetEase. Although a Google translation of the original indicates that NetEase picked up the rumor from "Taiwan media reports."
"The Chinese rumor mill has hit full blast claiming to have details about the imminent release of an iPad mini," the anonymous Kotaku post announced.
Somehow no one seems to have noticed that NetEase avoided mentioning the most important detail of all: namely the actual screen size of the Next New iPad (or NNiP).
Rollup took the Chinese text from the original NetEase post and ran it through Google Translate. As usual, GT leaves a lot of room for interpretation, such as this opening: "Apple intends to launch the iPad Mini news rumored long-standing, according to Taiwan media reports, the recent market came iPad Mini supply chain has been finalized, with the exception of David overseas, and the master also won the assembly order."
Just so, grasshopper.
Anyway, the iOSsphere is pretty sure what this means. "NetEase claimed that the device will be released around the third quarter of this year to 'counter attack' the upcoming Windows tablets," Kotaku reported breathlessly. Nothing like a counter-attack or even an attack to get the iOSphere's blood racing. "The report further claims that the devices will cost anywhere from US$249 to $299 and that there will be an initial 6 million units ready for launch."
"Apple is allegedly looking to launch a 7.85-inch iPad model sometime in the third quarter of this year," reveals Christian Zibreg, posting at iDownload Blog, and apparently pulling that screen size out of thin air.
No one can agree on how "mini" the iPad mini actually will be. Zibreg thinks it's 7.85; the Journal's February story said "about 8 inches"; and CNET's Josh Lowensohn repeated in late March a rumor originally posted on the Japanese Apple news site Macotakara that it was 5 inches.
The NetEase original and the hangers-on speculate that the smaller iPad is intended as a counter to the introduction of tablets later this year running Windows 8. According to Zibreg, "If the rumor is true, then the low-cost iPad mini is going after the low-to-mid-end of the tablet market." It's not clear why he makes that connection, or why Apple is worried about Windows 8 tablets, or for that matter how a "low-cost iPad mini" would actually benefit Apple.
Microsoft is working with a wide range of PC vendors that will presumably take the lessons they learned the hard way while trying to compete with the iPad and apply them to a new OS platform. The OS will support Intel and ARM-based processors, and clearly will offer the potential for low-end Windows 8 tablets; but also for high-end tablets. But that doesn't mean any of them will be come close to being as successful as iPad, or that Apple considers Windows 8 a threat that needs to be countered.
The most successful mini-tablet vendor seems to be Amazon with its Kindle product line. The company so far hasn't announced figures, but revealed in December 2011 that for the third week in a row "well over" 1 million of its then-new Kindle models had been sold. For that three-week period then, the total would be at least 3 million and as much as almost 6 million units. If sustained, and that might be a really big "if," Amazon possibly could match Apple's iPad total for the last quarter of 2011 -- 15.4 million.
But Apple sold 3 million iPad 3's in the first three days of sales in March. No one expects that pace to continue, but with each new iPad introduction, Apple is offering the previous model at a lower price, gradually creating a "low-end" product range without creating a separate low-end product, just as it has done with the iPhone.
"So, is a miniaturized iPad mini just a pipe dream or a valid proposition?" asks iDownload Blog's Zibreg. "Hard to tell. What we do know is that Apple likes to keep things simple."
There you have it.