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Could an 'iPad mini' stamp out the Kindle Fire?

Rumors of a 7-inch 'iPad mini' continue to flood the Internet. Will Apple CEO Tim Cook succumb to the popularity of smaller, cheaper tablets such as the Kindle Fire, or continue to follow in Steve Jobs' footsteps?

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While Apple effectively created the tablet market with the release of the first generation iPad, the company made a conscious decision to stick to a single model. Beyond the three storage sizes, the original iPad came in only black, with 3G through only AT&T, and only a 9.7-inche screen. Apple eventually opened up to a white frame and Verizon service. But if you want a smaller screen, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Good thing that there’s been a second wave of mid-size, cheaper tablets – including the very well reviewed Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook Color.

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Analyst Shaw Wu of the brokerage firm Sterne Agee said he doesn’t think Apple will release another iPad model anytime soon, but that the popularity of mini-tablets should be addressed.

“We do not sense that the release of an iPad mini is imminent and quite frankly, exact timing is difficult to predict,” Wu told Apple Insider. “However, we do believe it makes both fundamental and strategic sense for [Apple] to address at some point.”

If Cook decides to take the plunge into the world of smaller tablets, he will have steered the company away from Jobs’ vision. (Or at least what Jobs said was his vision. The former Apple CEO had a history for trashing an idea in the press and then implementing it a year later.) All of Apple’s current products still have Jobs’ signature on them, not Cook’s. An iPad mini could be a chance for Cook to demonstrate his own vision.

Cook and the Apple board members are now faced with a decision, if they haven’t made it already. Will Apple steer away from its “we did it perfectly the first time” mind-frame in favor of a new iPad model? Or will the company stick to its guns and try to beat devices like the Kindle Fire with a completely new product?

Only one thing is for sure – while tablets might be getting smaller, this battle is only getting bigger. 

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