Supply chain gossips point to mini iPad launch, possibly as a credible entry in the e-reader market.

Apple to launch an 8-inch iPad?

The rumour mills of the Far Eastern component supply chain have stamped out another Apple-related tidbit with the claim that Apple is set to introduce a 7.85-inch iPad some time before the fourth quarter of 2012.

A DigiTimes report attributed the move to the usual unnamed supply chain sources, also adding that a new iPad – presumably the iPad 3 – will arrive at the end of the first quarter.

Those same supply chain gossips reckons that tablet PCs will ship 60 million in 2011 with Apple having gobbled up 70 per cent of the market. That’s still a fair whack less than the 210 million notebooks but it’s pretty impressive nevertheless.

The DigiTimes also revealed some details of the foundries which are expected to win orders from Apple for the new 7.85-inch iPad. Given the sheer volume that Apple requires, the company often uses a range of suppliers, this time LG and AU Optronics.

Other brands have used the smaller 7 to 8-inch formfactor for tablets to good effect but so far Apple has stuck fast. October last year, the late Steve Jobs himself called 7-inch tablets "tweeners" and reckoned that they were too big to go after smartphones and too small to compete with the iPad. So what changed?

Two things that we can see. Firstly, high end smartphones have bloated up from three point something inches to nearly five inches in screen size. When you put it like that, the rumoured mini-iPad is just three inches larger.

The second, and rather more likely reason, is the fact that Amazon is currently shifting a million 7-inch Kindle Fires a week, on top of the regular e-ink versions. On that basis the man on the street has spoken, 7-inches is a great size for e-book reading and it seems likely that Apple is keen to introduce a direct competitor in paperless reading genre too.

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