A new rumor, that might make this year merrier for Apple enthusiasts, suggests that the company will not only release the much-awaited iPad 3 but will also launch a 7-inch mini iPad anytime this year.

According to a Los Angeles Times report, Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, told Computerworld that Apple, after launching iPad 3 in March, is expected to come up with a mini version of the iPad later this year. The news, for sure, will trigger another round of speculation over the name, features and specs of the mini iPad.

The rumored 7-inch iPad, with a case that integrates a keyboard as an accessory, will offer tough competition to the existing similar-sized tablets such as Amazon Kindle Fire, Samsung Galaxy Tab and HTC Flyer. But unlike all these mini tablets, the prices of which range between $199 and $483, Apple will charge a premium for its mini iPad, Gottheil believes.

Gottheil also mentioned that the late Steve Jobs, Apple's co-founder and longtime CEO, disapproved of the idea of a 7-inch iPad stating that at that size the screen is too small to express the software. This time, however, Apple will bring a 7-inch variation of its next iPad to step into the market of small-sized tablets, Gottheil insists.

The mini gadgets, with the exception of Kindle Fire, have historically failed to please tablet enthusiasts but with Apple's inclusion in the list of small-tablet makers, experts look forward to a turnaround in the performance of such mini tablets.

Meanwhile, as the date of launch for the iPad 3 (or whatever name Apple finally decides to give its next gen iPad) approaches, all sorts of rumors regarding the new gadget are gaining momentum. The latest addition to the list of rumors is a leaked photo, purportedly showing the back panel of Apple's third generation iPad, which hints at a larger battery, improved processor (A6 may be), Retina display and a more powerful camera.