Rumours that Apple is still working on a smaller, 7-inch version of the iPad have resurfaced.

iLounge reports that an unnamed source claims that a component manufacturer has asked by Apple to create parts for use in a miniature iPad.

However, Apple CEO Steve Jobs slated (pardon the pun) 7-inch tablets as recently as October 2010, and while he may have been bluffing, there is little other evidence to back up the report.

"Seven-inch tablets are tweeners: too big to compete with a smartphone, and too small to compete with an iPad," Jobs said at the time.

Jimmy Lin, the Taiwanese celebrity was pictured holding what appeared to be a miniature iPad back in December but the item could be nothing more than a cardboard cut-out for all the picture tells us. Previous rumours about a 7-inch iPad were also quashed in December.

More believable claims iLounge's source, though, centre on NFC (near field communications) features in the next-generation iPhone and iPad. The source reckons that Apple is actively developing accessories that will communicate with the built-in NFC chips in the new devices.

This would add weight to claims made as early as May 2010 that future iPhones would feature NFC capabilities.

Two UK network operators have announced plans to create NFC-based contactless payment systems in the UK by the summer of 2011, though there are few mobile handsets currently on the market that support NFC.

The iLounge report also mentions that Apple could be planning to use carbon-fibre rather than aluminium in future iPads.

Meanwhile, several news sources are reporting dates for a potential iPad 2 launch, or at least an announcement about a next-generation iPad. The Macotakara website reports that there is an event planned for February, while the actual launch could take place in March.

DeviceMAG, though, excitedly claims that "a few reliable sources all working independently" reckon that 9 February - this Wednesday - will be the day for an iPad 2 announcement.