Even Apple thinks it’s time for an iPad mini

Apple is testing smaller screens for a new mini iPad model, according to The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. Suppliers to Apple (s aapl) are the sources for the story, which are a repeat of the similar reports back in December when DigiTimes, a site that covers Asian hardware component manufacturers, reported that a 7.85-inch iPad would debut in late 2012.

After the release of the first iPad, Steve Jobs downplayed the idea of a smaller iPad, suggesting that the icons and touch controls would be too small for the device. His words, from an Apple investor call: “It’s meaningless unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one-quarter of their present size.” Jobs was correct about many things in the mobile space, but this isn’t one of them.

I suggest that because I’ve used a 7-inch tablet on a daily basis for the past 14 months. Obviously, it’s not an iPad, but even a small Android (s goog) tablet proves that a tablet of this size can be used. It works for Android and it will work for a smaller iPad too.

Why? Because an iPad of 7 or 7.75 inches with the same resolution as today’s iPad — 1024 x 768 — won’t shrink the icons or controls all that much. They’ll surely be at least as large as the icons on an iPhone or iPod touch, so if you can use iOS on those devices, it should work for a smaller iPad too. That resolution makes sense for another reason: developers won’t have to change a thing for their applications.

I recently suggested we’d see a smaller iPad for a number of reasons. Smaller devices are more portable, making them easier to carry and use in a wider range of locations. Given the growing number of Kindle Fire (s amzn) and Nook Tablets (s bks) I’m seeing, clearly there’s a market for smaller slates. Obviously the $199 to $249 price tag of those devices adds to the appeal, but Apple could compete with a smaller iPad that starts at $299 thanks to its diverse ecosystem.

With an expected iPad 3 announcement early next month, I don’t foresee a smaller iPad debut soon. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see such a device in the fall, a time when Apple has typically refreshed its iPod lineup. I’ve even suggested the unpopular opinion that an iPad mini will actually take the place of an iPod touch at some point. Regardless of what happens to the iPod touch, it’s time for the iPad mini.