Apple's 8-inch iPad could form iOS tablet triptych

Reignited rumors of a second, smaller Apple iPad have flourished, with signs pointing to not one but two new models in 2012 as the Cupertino company branches out into a twin-tablet strategy. Despite Steve Jobs' protestations to the contrary, back in 2010, insiders claim Apple has long maintained plans for a "tweener" tablet of its own; in fact, while twin-tier pricing for Apple's iPad has already been tipped for this year, with talk that the company might keep the current iPad 2 on as a budget model alongside March's new iPad 2S/3, it seems Apple's supply-chain may finally be up to the challenge of slotting in a new model.

Even if Apple branches out into a second slate, it's unlikely to subsequently follow Samsung's path of a different tablet for every individual buyer. Part of Apple's constraint is app resolution, or more accurately maintaining compatibility across multiple screen resolutions. Right now that means the initial iPhone (320 x 480), the Retina Display introduced by the iPhone 4 (640 x 960), and the iPad (1024 x 768). Talk of the Retina Display toting third-gen iPad has suggested a literally doubled resolution, to 2048 x 1536, with evidence of suitable graphics found in recent iOS 5.x betas.

The limiting factor isn't technology, or even apps and usability – despite what Steve Jobs might have said – it's supply. Apple needs to have sufficient amounts of whichever panel it settles on, likely a 7.85-inch IPS LCD according to previous rumors and past evidence, to ensure it can meet the expected demand. We've already seen what an LCD shortage can do to iPad availability, after all.

A 7.85-inch 1024 x 768 panel, therefore, would allow a so-called "iPad mini" to use the same apps as the existing iPad 2. Meanwhile, the  9.7-inch iPad could go on to adopt the high-resolution display in iPad 2S/3 form and, potentially, a higher sticker price, Apple perhaps assuaging any consumer frustrations with a price cut for the existing iPad 2.

Although rumors have suggested Apple will shift to a larger, perhaps 4-inch display on the next-gen iPhone 5, a tweener tablet and sticking with 3.5-inch smartphone screens arguably makes more sense. No dip in pixel density for the new iPhone, unlike if it spread its current 640 x 960 across a bigger panel, and no need for developers to cook up new handset versions of their apps, if instead the resolution changed.

We won't know for sure until we see the first signs of Apple's 2012 tablet strategy early next month, but until then let us know how excited you are about the upcoming iPad 2S/3 in the SlashGear poll below.

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