The moral of this story appears to be, "never say never," as Apple apparently makes production orders for a smaller version of the iPad to compete with Google's new Nexus tablet and Amazon's Kindle Fire.
The Future Is Small, and Beautiful
Multiple sources are reporting from Asia that Apple has placed orders to begin production for a smaller version of the best-selling iPad tablet. The device that defined a market has sat atop it, almost unchallenged since the first version. But now the competitors are coming thick, fast, smaller and less expensive.
Apple was always going to have to respond to those threats and its own mini version was the only logical conclusion. Regardless of what the company's former CEO said, good business is where you find it, and everyone is finding sales in smaller, powerful tablets.
These sources suggest, backed up by Bloomberg and New York Times reports, a 8" or smaller screen, perhaps to keep Apple distinct from the competition, and it will likely pack a retina-class display. While this might sound like a knee-jerk reaction to the unveiling of Google's Nexus tablet, it is more likely the continuation of Apple's policy to diversify the product base, either at the price or feature level, as it has done with the iPod and iPhone.
Rolling Up the Market
With Apple's iPad trademark worries sorted out in China, and it apparently winning in some of its major patent battles, there is a clear route for Apple to push the iPad Mini. Perhaps the best reason for its existence is the lack of new technology available that they can throw into an iPad 4 model (perhaps why Apple dropped the version number from the third version iPad).
More processing power? Not needed by most users or apps. More storage? Will make it too expensive. Tactile screens? A gimmick at best, expect for the visually impaired. There is little wow factor left in the tablet format, as it has rapidly evolved. Until we hit roll-up devices, we're pretty much reaching the limits of what a sheet of glass in a thin case can do.
Of course, these production orders can be halted or modified, but if Apple wants to keep its market share in the tablet market healthy then it must respond to the needs of the user, and it looks users are demanding smaller devices. Expect a launch announcement is September with shipments then, or shortly after.