With the success of Amazon’s Kindle Fire, 7-inch tablets have become all the rage these days. Rumors and analysts have suggested over the last few months that Apple is looking to introduce its own 7-inch iPad in 2012 to compete with the new tablets on the market.

While there seems to be supply chain evidence that Apple is gathering 7.85-inch displays for its next-generation iPad, a new report says that Apple has no plans to introduce such a tablet in 2012. Instead, the iPad 2 is expected to remain available at a reduced price when the iPad 3 is announced.

In the world of analysts, it’s always important to take claims of future Apple plans as speculation and nothing more. Analysts can predict plenty of sales numbers and future products that never come to fruition, so, as the cliche says, take what you hear with a grain of salt.

One analyst that breaks the mold is Brian Blair of Wedge Partners. When the iPhone 5 rumors were at their fever pitch Brian Blair was one of the only analysts that tried to dispel the claims that Apple was introducing a completely redesigned iPhone in 2011. Instead, he said that Apple was planning the iPhone 4S, an incremental refresh to the lineup with an A5 processor and 8 megapixel camera.

Today Brian Blair issues another note saying that Apple does not have plans to introduce a 7-inch tablet. He told BGR, ““Don’t expect a 7-incher. While we believe Apple has tested 7-inch screen prototypes for over a year, we don’t currently expect the company to release anything in the 7-inch size in 2012.”

Instead, Blair believes that Apple plans to implement its iPhone strategy in 2012 by offering the iPad 2 for a reduced price when the iPad 3 comes out. “We believe Apple is highly likely to keep the iPad 2 on the production line after the launch of iPad 3 and offer it at a lower price point in an effort to address demand at the mid-tier, what we view as the $249 – $499 range.”

MacRumors has an interesting concept of what a 7.85-inch iPad looks like next to the iPad 2’s 9.7-inch display. While the 7-inch version isn’t unusable, it seems unnecessary. Steve Jobs famously said in 2010 that Apple will not make a 7-inch tablet, “The reason we [won’t] make a 7-inch tablet isn’t because we don’t want to hit [a lower] price point, it’s because we think the screen is too small to express the software. As a software driven company, we think about the software strategies first.”

While Steve Jobs wasn’t known for sticking to his word (he said that no one would want to watch videos on a portable media player), he seemed emphatic that Apple’s philosophy did not leave room for a 7-incher. Apple as a company is not known for attempting to match the competition’s specs — the iPhone’s form factor has largely stayed the same for five years — and there’s no reason that approach should change now.

Another set of rumors have suggested that Apple is instead working on a higher-resolution, Retina-like display iPad 3 and slightly different exterior. It’s hard to imagine how Apple could make the iPad any better from a hardware perspective (excluding the obvious processor and memory upgrades), but surely there’s room for more improvements.

What do you think about the prospect of a 7-inch iPad? Do you think that Apple will introduce such a product in 2012 to compete with the smaller tablets on the market? Or would it make more sense for Apple to lower the price of the iPad 2 when the iPad 3 is made available? We’re betting on the latter.