Apple’s 7-inch iPad: The Rumor That Just Won’t Die

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Those crazy kids at DigiTimes are at it again with another 7.85-inch iPad rumor.

As “industry sources” tell it, the 7.85-inch iPad will head into volume production in the third quarter at the earliest, with a likely price of $249 to $299. Apple has reportedly started delivering samples to its suppliers for verification.

(MORE: Join Us on March 7th for Live Coverage of Apple’s iPad Event)

This isn’t the first rumor of a smaller iPad (or iPad Mini, or iPad Nano, or whatever). Almost immediately after the original iPad launched in April 2010, DigiTimes incorrectly reported that Apple was planning a smaller version for the first quarter of 2011. Analysts soon chimed in with their own predictions. At the end of last year, DigiTimes revived the rumor, claiming that Apple was buying screens for a 7.85-inch iPad. Last month, Technology Business Research analyst Ezra Gottheil said a 7-inch iPad has “always been in the plan,” and then the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple was working with component suppliers to test the tablet.

But not everyone’s bullish about a 7-inch iPad. John Gruber wrote that last he heard, Apple was considering a smaller tablet, but not committed to bringing one to market. “I wouldn’t bet on it,” said Gruber. Jim Dalrymple, who’s often the one to debunk false Apple rumors, concurred, while allowing that “it may make sense for a slightly smaller iPad at some point.”

I would like to see an iPad with a screen size of less than seven inches. It’s a good size for playing games, thumb-typing and reading e-books, but so many other tablet makers have had a hard time getting it right, (I am holding out hope for Asus’ Eee Pad Memo, though.) But whether it’s happening this year still seems too tough to call.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Apple is expected to announce the iPad 3 at an event next week.

(MORE: Tablets: ‘Why Should Somebody Buy This Instead of an iPad?’)