Will Apple's next foray into the tablet market be an iPad Mini?

Apple is no stranger to the rumour mill; as the most valuable technology company in the world and with more money than the US government, it comes as no surprise that people will be wondering what the Cupertino giant has up its sleeves.

The recent rumour is that Apple will release a new iPad in smaller form that its current 10-inch incarnation in Q3 of this year, and an iPad developer would no doubt be responsible for making sure all the apps work correctly.

A rumour is defined by its lack of evidence, so there is currently no way of knowing what the chances are of a smaller iPad being released. If one were to hazard a guess though, it can be stated that the rumour mill is almost always wrong when it comes to guessing Apple’s products.

The iPhone 5 was rumoured for release in summer of 2011, and it was going to have at least a four-inch screen, a new design and some new specs to keep it toe-to-toe with the competition. Instead, we got the iPhone 4S, which was the same as the 4 but with a few hardware differences.

In addition, there have been rumours that Apple would release a cheaper version of the iPhone to try to capture the low-end smartphone market to take it away from Symbian and Android. Of course, neither of these rumours has come true.

Although Apple released a Mac Mini and a plethora of iPods in many sizes, it has never seemed too concerned with capturing every segment of the market – only that which will purchase the devices it makes, which tends to be the higher end. This initiative is nothing to do with the software – an iOS developer could have it running on a cheaper version of the iPhone – but Apple won’t compromise on its product ideals, which means making the best version of the product possible.

What is interesting about the smaller iPad rumour though is that it would be to rival the Samsung Note, and they come from John Gruber, a long-time Apple pundit who has proven to be well informed. On his The Talk Show podcast, Gruber explained that Apple is “noodling with” a 7.85-inch iPad. Of course, it’s almost certain that Apple does have various sizes of all its products kicking around the design lab – each company will have numerous prototypes before settling on a final design. In order for Steve Jobs to make his famous statement that a tablet is no good if it’s less than 10 inches, he must have first used smaller ones.

There is also the fact that the iPad is the best-selling tablet on the market, and one of the few – if not the only – tablets turning a profit. This begs the question of why Apple would feel any need to rival the Samsung Note, when it is already selling more than satisfactory numbers at present. According to Cult of Mac, one line of reasoning for the Samsung Note being a genuine rival is its inclusion of a stylus for tasks. Yet what has been overlooked here is the fact that Apple spearheaded a move into capacitive screens precisely to get away from styluses – Walter Isaacson quoted Jobs in his autobiography as saying that we already have 10 styluses so we don’t need any others. Indeed, the suggestion that the stylus makes all the difference is essentially to say that we should have continued with PDAs.

So far, there is nothing to suggest that the idea of a smaller iPad is anything more than unsubstantiated rumour. Apple does not have a history of making budget versions of its products; instead it always tries to lead the pack.