The gears could start to turn as early as this month for the production of a smaller iPad.
Production of the 7.85-inch display slated for use on a smaller version of the iPad should begin in August, an analyst told CNET.
"We expect panel production to start in August, with production ramping up to high volumes (more than a million units per month) in the fourth quarter," said Paul Semenza, an analyst at NPD DisplaySearch, in response to an e-mail query.
Semenza said this is DisplaySearch's "understanding of the activity for the 7.85 [inch] panel expected to be used in the iPad Mini."
If this production schedule plays out, it could indicate a late 2012 launch, he said.
Recent reports say the so-called iPad Mini will launch in September.
While the downsized iPad is being characterized as a 7-inch tablet like the Google Nexus 7, a screen size falling between 7 and 8 inches -- such as 7.85 inches -- would likely make the Apple tablet closer to the larger 8.2-inch Motorola Xyboard.
No solid word yet on pricing, though a report claimed it "is likely to sell for significantly less than the latest $499 iPad."
Whatever the exact price is, it's safe to say that the $199 Google Nexus 7 would be seen as a direct competitor to a smaller iPad.