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Adding on to the already-tall pile of rumors that suggest Apple will be launching a smaller iPad with a roughly 8-inch display, the New York Times has just stated that, according to sources close to the company, the 7.85" iPad will be "significantly cheaper" than the existing iPad 3, and will make its debut sometime this year.

While Apple has largely maintained its ground in the tablet market, the war is heating up. In the smaller tablet space specifically, Google just began shipping its Nexus 7 on Friday, which is set to compete against both the Kindle Fire from Amazon and Apple’s iPad. With its low price point, consumers who just want their tablets for very basic tasks and portability may be more tempted to purchase one over an iPad. And again, while Apple still reigns in this market, perhaps their alleged interest in launching a smaller iPad is so that they can squash competition from Google and Amazon – primarily the latter – before they put a more substantial dent in the iPad’s sales.

But given the incredible success that the existing iPad is seeing, paired with comments made by Jobs about how a 7" tablet size "isn’t sufficient to create great tablet apps" makes it almost unusual that the company seem to be planning to ship such a device. John Gruber posted a pretty solid post noting this, also pointing out that, should the company ship a 7.85" tablet, it won’t be the first time that it/Jobs made a complete 180 degree turn from a formerly held stance. Also, being justifiably pedantic, 7.85" is closer to 8" than to 7", meaning that it will offer 66% of the surface area of the existing 9.7" iPad, vs. 45% if it were roughly 7". A few other points that may show the company’s reason behind the creation of a smaller iPad were also noted in Gruber’s post, so it’s definitely worth a read.

So, what do we know about the device? Rumors have been very vague as of late, not mentioning much more than the "iPad mini" is coming, and will have a screen size of 7.85 inches. We don’t even know if it will, initially at least, come with a Retina display. I’m fine with the details remaining a surprise if the device is even announced, though.

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