After the iPad 3 launch, things have gone rather quiet, with disquiet about its actual capabilities. Since any new iPad will struggle to push the tech envelope much further, is it time for the iPad Mini to step in and expand the brand?

Time for the Shrinking Tablet?

After the iPad 3 launch (and its continued rollout, with 10 new countries getting it this week) comes some inevitable backlash. We've already had Wi-Fi woes and the debate over heat issues. Now, since Apple showed off some hot-looking games at its launch, developers are starting to complain that the A5X processor just isn't up to the job, and any plans it has for competing with mainstream gaming seem years away.

Apple is currently looking forward to the iPhone 5, but finds itself in a fight against Samsung, with the impending launch of the Galaxy S3, in the smartphone space. The next iPad will also see more competition this year, battling the upcoming Kindle Fire 2, Windows 8 devices and Google's own Nexus tablet, so what is the company to do?

One idea would be an iPad Mini unveiling at Apple's upcoming Worldwide Developer Conference, which gives it some hype into the usually slow summer months. A launch would also fit neatly into the full-size iPad launch schedule and stretch Apple's sales out of that frenzied Spring period, while creating another blockbuster format that die-hards would happily upgrade to.

China Syndrome

Apple has to look at the wider market to keep its massive revenue generators turning. And that means making a more affordable tablet, which means a smaller screen (one of the most expensive parts). So, it comes as little surprise that Chinese reports running rampant today are rather high in the iPad mini idea.

The basics of the report are that Apple's partners will build a smaller format tablet device, for a third quarter release (to slot nicely in between full-size iPad launches). It will be priced and positioned  to take on both the Kindle Fire and the mass of upcoming Windows 8 powered tablets with a price between $249 and $299.

The smaller screen will require less battery power, and with continued improvements in processor design, Apple could probably cram in a better CPU. It doesn't have to be radically different to the iPad 3, just more compatible with user's needs.

Begin Construction

The Chinese article talks of chassis and screen orders with the likes of  Hon Hai (the parent company of Foxconn) and Pegatron, and the screen possibly from Master. While Apple keeps all these deals highly secret, word generally leaks from the Chinese side quite quickly.

With all this rather specific activity from Asia, plus reams of western press and investor speculation, it seems highly likely that the product is a go. Apple may bow to the inevitable with a launch event sooner rather than later, or just keep quiet until it is ready. But, the move makes sense in many ways, Apple needs to keep driving those sales, and a broadening of the product family (in size, not just price) is essential to that.

Despite Steve Jobs' publically expressed loathing of the small-format idea, that will hardly get in the way of the company's mission to reach its financial goals. With its HD big screen offering still shrouded in mystery, Apple could do with a quick win, and even that high-ambition, design-focus-is-everything, company would be failing in its duty to shareholders if it ignored such an obvious segment of its main market.

Still Going With Siri

Given the iPad 3 missed out on full Siri support (for now), perhaps the Mini version will get it as a unique feature, although given that some users' practical experience with the voice-assist feature has lead them to sue Apple, perhaps not. 

Apple continues to tout Siri with a series of new adverts, the latest starring Samuel L. Jackson and Zooey Deschanel among others. With the new Samsung Galaxy, Nokia Lumia 900 and others looking for business, is this type of marketing the best way to sell the iPhone?