Apple’s Big Announcement: Itty Bitty iPad Mini

And you thought last year's Christmas gadget wars were tough.

In 2008, Steve Jobs famously predicted, upon its launch, the rapid demise of the Kindle:

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he told the New York Times. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

In late 2010, following the launch of the 10-inch iPad earlier in the year, during an earnings call, the turtlenecked one talked smack on seven-inch tablets, pronouncing them “dead on arrival”: “Seven-inch tablets are tweeners: too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with the iPad.”

Of course, with millions of devices sold, including an estimated five million Kindle Fires (Amazon does not release sales figures), the word “Kindle” has become synonymous with “e-reader” (despite Nook being a better experience, especially for chafe at their ebook libraries suddenly disappearing).

The point here is not to speak ill of the dead—some speculate that Jobs didn’t actually believe his comment about seven-inch tablets, and ebook sales notwithstanding, the degree to which people are actually reading more books remains open to debate. (While I think reading is probably up, I suspect people are also more invested in the perception that they read than Jobs anticipated. Such is the revered position books continue to hold in our society.)

No, the point is to note how remarkable what’s happening at 1 p.m. ET today is—remarkable by tech trend standards anyway.

After years of denying that the company would release a smaller version of its category-defining iPad, the only way today’s Apple’s announcement could be bigger news is if it didn’t announce the much rumored, and already unfortunately parodied iPad Mini.

What it means is that Apple (whose brass came around on the seven-inch concept) has, after playing like the seven-inch market was a slum, drank the Kindle Fire—or more likely the Google Nexus 7—Kool-Aid.

Paired with reports that Apple is launching a new and improved iBooks (and keeping in mind that Apple is prepping to go toe-to-toe with the Department of Justice over ebook pricing), it certainly appears that Apple has come full circle on the whole e-reading thing.

Analysts are expecting the mini iPad to come with neither its big 10-inch brother’s Retina screen nor 3G connectivity, all of which points to primary use reading books, rather than the more graphics-intensive stuff the iPad excels at.

In fact, while Apple watchers seem to have figured out most of the particulars about a device the company hasn’t formally announced, the one thing that remains largely a mystery is the price (oh, and the name: iPad Mini is media shorthand). With the Kindle Fire starting at $159 and the Nexus 7 beginning at $199, some are speculating that the smaller iPad will start at $329—a higher price for sure, but one that plays to the iPad’s image as a higher-quality item (and the Fire’s rep as a budget option).

On the heels of Amazon entering the big tablet ring with its Kindle Fire HD, Apple’s counterstrike, especially given the two companies’ roles in the ebook market, should be fascinating to watch as the holidays encroach.

Of course, we won’t know any of the details for sure until 1 p.m. (Apple is also purportedly launching a 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina screen, a new iMac and Mac Mini, and a new version of iTunes.)

If you didn’t score an invite to San Jose for the live unveiling, you’ll have no shortage of bloggers fighting to out-live-blog each other:

Coverage on Ars Technica’s Infinite Loop, CNET, Mashable, Gizmodo, Engadget, GigaOm and Philly’s own Apple Tell should be worth your time, though there’ll be no shortage of sites willing to give you the scoop.

Of course, what this all really means is that this holiday season—as each manufacturer fights to get their device in your hands through which it will ultimately make its money selling you content—could make last year’s frantic device avalanche look tame. Remember that Nook and Kobo also released new families of e-readers and tablets, and Microsoft (aw, remember them?) will be hitting the market with their awaited Surface tablet.

Things could get crazy. Or everyone could be sick and tired of all this and pick up a book in protest.

EDITOR’S UPDATE: Read details from today’s Apple announcement, including info on the iPad mini, here.