Why the iPad Mini will cost at least $349

Now that the new 4-inch iPod Touch starts at $299, can Apple charge anything less than $349 for a 7-inch iPad?

This mockup shows what an iPad Mini would likely look like alongside an iPad, er, Maxi?

Apple may have just priced itself into a corner.

At least week's product launch event, the company unveiled a new, fifth-generation iPod Touch with a slightly larger screen, better camera, faster processor, and so on. Starting price: $299.

Meanwhile, the rumor mill continues to churn about an iPad Mini that could appear as early as next month, potentially obliterating Amazon's Kindle Fire and other competitors in the 7-inch tablet market (much as the current iPad has dominated the 10-inch market).

Indeed, many have speculated that a $249 iPad would spell doom for the Kindle Fires and Nooks of the world. But you know what? All of a sudden that's not looking too likely. Even a $299 iPad seems improbable.

And it's all because of the new iPod Touch. In what universe could Apple charge $249 or even $299 for an iPad when a virtually identical device with a much smaller screen already sells for $299?

Consequently, I'm guessing the iPad Mini will start at $349, and quite possibly $399. The latter seems most likely, as it would give Apple a perfectly spaced lineup: a $299 iPod Touch, $399 iPad Mini, and $499 new iPad (which, incidentally, it no longer is).

Of course, I could be wrong. A few of my CNET colleagues pointed out that the iPad Mini might have a non-Retina screen or less expensive processor, or that Apple might offer a 16GB model (the $299 iPod Touch comes with 32GB). In other words, a $299 Mini isn't out of the question, especially if Apple markets it properly.

Noted CNET's Lori Grunin: "They're two different customers: people who want something small enough to fit in a pocket and people who want something with a big screen. It's a little un-Apple, but I don't think it's crazy."

I do. I think the new Touch provides all the clues we'll need regarding the iPad Mini's screen, storage, and processor: It'll have a Retina Display, at least 32GB of memory, and a dual-core A5 chip. Consequently, it'll cost more than the iPod Touch. How can it not?

Time will tell, of course. While we're waiting it out, hit the comments and let me know how much you think the iPad Mini will cost -- and what you'd be willing to pay for an iPad with a 7-inch (or, if you believe the rumors, 7.8-inch) screen.