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Apple iPad 3 Mini? A 7-inch iPad is coming, analyst says

Computer HardwareApple iPadMedia IndustryCorporate PerformanceMarketingAmazon Kindle FireSteve Jobs

It's a rumor that won't die: Apple and a 7-inch iPad.

On Thursday, Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, told Computerworld that he expects Apple to release an iPad in a 7-inch screen size later this year, after a speculated March introduction of an iPad 3 with a 9.7-inch touchscreen.

The first generation iPad and the iPad 2 have both had 9.7-inch displays, with a 1024 x 768 pixel resolution, and while the rumor of a 7-inch iPad has been persistent, it's also one that many analysts and tech pundits have shot down in the past.

The late Steve Jobs, Apple's co-founder and longtime CEO, also shot down the idea of a 7-inch iPad stating that, at that size, "the screen is too small to express the software."

But Gottheil told Computerworld that he thinks Apple will bring a 7-inch variation of its next iPad to market and that the smaller iPad could ship alongside a case that integrates a keyboard as an accessory, too.

"I believe that's always been in the plan," Gottheil said in the report. "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."

If Apple were to reverse its stance on producing a 7-inch tablet, it might be because of increasing competition from tablets both bigger and smaller.

So far, 7-inch tablets have historically failed to catch any sort of consumer attention with one exception -- the Amazon Kindle Fire.

Amazon says the Fire has sold in the millions, though the company doesn't disclose specific sales numbers.

Last month, Apple reported that it sold a record number of iPads in the last three months of 2011, the same quarter in which Amazon launched the Fire. The Cupertino tech giant said it sold 15.43 million iPads in the fourth quarter of last year, which was more than the 4 million sold in the third quarter.

Still, despite those monstrous sales numbers, the iPad is losing market share to rival tablets running Google's Android operating system. According to recent data from the Strategy Analytics, the iPad's share of the tablet market fell to 57.6% in the fourth quarter of 2011. A year earlier, the iPad accounted for 68.2% of the worldwide tablet market, the research firm said.

Meanwhile, Android tablets grew to a 39.1% market share, up from 29% a year earlier, Strategy Analytics said.

What do you think? Could you see a reason for Apple to change course and make a 7-inch iPad? Would you be interested in a smaller-sized Apple tablet or is the 9.7-inch model fine? And if Apple were to make such an iPad, what should it be called -- iPad Nano, iPad Mini, iPad 3.5?

Sound off in the comments.

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