Apple releasing 7-inch iPad 3 mini in late 2012?

In January we reported Apple had plans to release two iPads in 2012.  We have been led to believe the iPad 3 will release in March of this year.  The second iPad of 2012 may not be exactly what we originally thought, however.  New thoughts about an iPad 3 mini are casting doubt on originally reports of a 9.7-inch iPad 4 with "much upgraded hardware specifications".

Yesterday, Technology Business Research analyst Ezra Gottheil told Computerworld that he expects Apple to release a 7-inch iPad mini later this year.

"I believe that's always been in the plan" Gottheil said of a possible iPad min. "Actually that's a good form factor for some users, and although they will also charge a premium above other similar-sized tablets, they want to protect that price flank."

Gotthiel's statements contradict past comments by the late Steve Jobs.  Apple's co-founder and longtime CEO had rejected the idea of a 7-inch iPad repeatedly, saying "the screen is too small to express the software." 

Of course, with the passing of Jobs and the success of Amazon's competing tablet, the Kindle Fire, Apple could be looking in a new direction.

While 7-inch tablets in the past have failed to provide any sort of consumer excitement, the Kindle Fire was the firist to actually catch fire (pardon the pun) with the general public.  In December, Amazon claimed the Kindle Fire as "the most successful product" launched by the company – with over 10 million units sold since the launch.  Amazon doesn't release specific sales figures.

But despite increasing competition, Apple is still enjoying what they call, "all-time sales records".  In the most recent company earnings report, Apple noted 15.43 million iPads were sold in Q1.

Currently, Apple has not mentioned any possibility of an iPad 7-inch mini, but as we know, these type of things come when you least expect it.  With a push from the Kindle Fire, Apple could change course and make a 7-inch iPad.  But would consumers buy it?  One of the attractive things about the Kindle Fire was it's $200 price point – about 1/3 the cost of an iPad.  If Apple can release a new mini iPad for an affordable price, I could easily see consumers buying it.

[Chicago Tribune]