Rumors keep cropping up that the next-generation iPad will be thinner, lighter, and narrower, with styling similar to the iPad mini. And yesterday this rumor got more juice thanks to the appearance of iPad 5 cases on the Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba. You can see a collection of images of the cases on AppleInsider. The size of the cases do indeed suggest a mini-like iPad 5. The question is whether the case manufacturer has access to inside information regarding the specs of the forthcoming iPad, or if they're preparing cases based on the rumors themselves. The latter has been known to happen, such as when some case manufacturers made cases for a larger iPhone in advance of the release of the iPhone 4S. But it also frequently happens that Chinese suppliers of iPhone and iPad components leak details to the case manufacturers.
My bet is that the rumors are right, and that the fifth-generation iPad will use new a display technology that will allow for the more diminutive size. Apple has to do at least this to stay competitive, because tablets of all sizes and shapes continue to pour into the market. Lightness and thinness could be an important distinguishing feature. Apple has the cash and the supply chain to do things that few other companies can afford, and a svelte size is one of them. So I think it'll happen.
But in my mind, this development diminishes the likelihood of an earlier rumor of a forthcoming thicker iPad mini with retina display. Again, that rumor was based on early cases for the device. I just don't see that happening. I think Apple's thicker third- and fourth-generation retina iPad models were an anomaly in order to get higher resolution and the general trend will be thin and light.
The market is moving fast, and many companies are announcing new tablets at the Mobile World Congress this week. These include the Asus FonePad, a 7-inch tablet with a phone, and the HP Slate 7, which includes front and rear cameras for only $169. You can get an overview of a dozen of these new tablets on CNET. Apple has to keep innovating to keep up.