It’s always been Apple’s trend to release a cool new product, then customize that product with several different versions. The iPod had the iPod Nano and the iPod Mini, and the Macbook had the Macbook Air.

Could the iPad be the next major device to get downsized? According to the oft-cited ‘supply chain’ sources that tech blogs rely upon, Apple’s next big announced could be the Apple iPad “Mini.”

At first, the iPad Mini was just dismissed as rumors. But now, those rumors are gaining more credibility. Apparently, we could see the iPad Mini on store shelves as soon as this fall.

If the Mini is released, it will be the first time Apple has changed the screen size of its flagship tablet computer. The iPad has alwayshad a 9.7-inch screen, and although that screen has been tweaked and improved over iPad generations, it has never experienced a change like this.

The news also comes in the wake of Google’s 7-inch Nexus announcement last week, which generated waves of hype throughout the tech community. Priced at only $199, the Nexus looks to attract people who may not have been able to afford tablets in the several hundred dollar range before.

If rumors are true, the iPad Mini would feature a 7-inch or 8-inch screen. It would almost certainly cost less than existing iPad models, which would make the iPad a lot more attractive to consumers of all budget levels.

Apple hasn’t commented on the iPad mini rumors, but sources say that we can expect a release before Christmas, sometime in the 3rd quarter of 2012. With a similar price tag to the Google Nexus and more functionality than the Kindle Fire, Apple’s entry into the lower end tablet market could be devastating for its competitors.

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