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Don't discount Apple's interest in a smaller iPad, says analyst

Don't pooh-pooh a smaller iPad, especially when it's becoming increasingly clear that Apple isn't.

An iPad closer in size to Amazon's Kindle Fire? That's becoming increasingly likely.
An iPad closer in size to Amazon's Kindle Fire? That's becoming increasingly likely.

Steve Job's protestations notwithstanding, the chances of Apple bringing out an 8-inch class iPad are increasing by the month.

CNET reported in October that Apple was looking into an iPad with a 7.85-inch screen. And reports emanating from the supply chain--the host of companies that make components for the iPad--have continued unabated. The most recent coming from the Wall Street Journal.

Naysayers immediately point to Jobs' comments way back in November 2010, when he seemed to summarily dismiss the notion of a smaller tablet.

"Apple has done extensive user testing and we really understand this stuff...There are clear limits on how close you can place things on a touch screen, which is why we think 10 inch is the minimum screen size to create great tablet apps," Jobs said at the time.

But that was then and this is now. "Sometimes it's a timing issue. At the time, I agreed with what Steve Jobs said about a smaller sized device because the world was still getting used to the idea of what a tablet was," said Richard Shim, an analyst at DisplaySearch, a firm that has contacts among Asia-based suppliers.

Importantly, Shim said a smaller iPad would have the same 1024x768 resolution of the current iPad.

"Clearly there's any appetite for different screen sizes now. For Apple not to do a different screen size type device would be leaving opportunity on the table," he said. "They don't have tendency to let a whole market opportunity go by."

The popularity of Amazon's 7-inch Kindle Fire--with about 5 million units shipped in only two months--makes this clear, Shim said.

And no one less than Apple's CEO has recognized this. "Amazon has different strengths. I think they'll sell a lot of units. I think they have and they will," Apple CEO Tim Cook said at Goldman Sachs' annual Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco today.

Cook didn't stop there, of course. He made it clear in the next sentence that Apple's approach is different. "But the customers that we're designing our products for are not going to be satisfied with a limited function kind of product. I think the real catalyst for the tablet market will be innovation, pushing to the next frontier," he said.

Probably the most compelling argument for an iPad with a different screen size was made later in the call by Cook. In short, Apple believes that the tablet market will eventually exceed the PC market in size. In that case, why restrict the iPad lineup to one size fits all.

"Many of us thought at Apple that the tablet market would become larger than the PC market and it was just a matter of time for that to occur. I feel that stronger today than I did then," Cook said today.