A new round of Apple rumors and leaks are suggesting what some tech observers have been predicting for the past year: that a smaller, less expensive iPad is on the way.
The talk of a 7-or-8-inch version of the popular tablet (the current model has a nearly 10-inch screen, diagonally), comes on the heels of Google announcing plans for the Nexus 7, its own smaller tablet that will be more in the mold of Amazon's Kindle Fire.
The Nexus 7 will have a 7-inch screen and sell for $199 like the Fire, which has been one of the few iPad rivals to gain any real traction in the tablet marketplace.
On Wednesday, Bloomberg was quoting "two people with knowledge of the plans" who said Apple will release a smaller iPad by the end of the year.
The so far maginary -- or at least never-seen -- device has been dubbed the "iPad Mini" by speculators, in light of the iPod of the same name. The sources said the gadget will have a screen between 7 and 8 inches wide, and one said that it will not have the high-definition "retina display" screen of the new iPad.
Apple rumors can be an amusingly hit-or-miss affair, with random speculation often gaining critical online mass among the millions of diehard Apple fans (or, for that matter, detractors) always on the lookout for what might be coming next.
But as the months have gone on, more and more analysts have begun to believe that the arrival of a smaller iPad is a matter of "when," not "if."
Multiple tech sites also are pointing this week to a post from Chinese tech site MyDrivers (Google translation) which quoted sources on Apple's supply chain in that country saying the new device will have a 7.85-inch screen and be the same thickness as the iPad 2.
Despite a growing tide of "evidence" (a term used with a hearty grain of salt here), not all tech observers are convinced.
"So, will there be a smaller version of the iPad? At the moment, there's not enough evidence to say and, if anything, on balance it's most likely not to be the case," blogger Jamie Condliffe wrote for Gizmodo U.K. "But that doesn't mean we can rule it out. Fortunately, speculation that the device could be launched by the end of year fits with the Apple's usual October iPhone announcement -- so you might not have to wait too long to find out."
If the rumors are true, it would be Apple's biggest departure yet from the vision of co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, who died last year.
Jobs was adamant that anything smaller than the iPad wouldn't deliver the full "tablet experience."
"This size isn't sufficient to create great tablet apps in our opinion," he said of 7-inch tablets in October 2010, during Apple's quarterly earnings report. "Apple's done extensive user testing on touch interfaces over many years, and we really understand this stuff.
"There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touch screen before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them. This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps."