As has become the norm when the release of a new iPad model nears, rumors have begun circulating about Apple producing a smaller version of the tablet. This time, the Wall Street Journal has reported that Apple has shown some component suppliers designs for an 8″ screen.

Well, Apple may very well be testing a smaller version of the iPad, but don’t expect it to show up for purchase any time soon.

There are several reasons why an 8″ iPad makes little sense, some of which have already been covered by John Gruber and Jim Dalrymple. Namely, that Apple is always testing variations on its products and that a smaller model of iPad is something that it has been ‘considering’ for some time, but has not committed to manufacturing.

There are also another factor here that has to do with Apple’s product development process. Apple makes products in a completely different way than most other companies. When a company prototypes a device, it is often done in a mockup fashion, with substitute materials, until the design is completely finalized, and then the product is produced.

With Apple, the process is different. It’s completely likely that a smaller iPad has been turned out of the labs, and it’s not hard to see a trimmed down version of the iPad in your mind’s eye, it almost designs itself.

But once it leaves the labs, Apple doesn’t just settle at a prototype, it actually takes the design ‘all the way’, through tooling, manufacturing and assembly, until it has a final product that can be presented to the executive staff during one of their bi-monthly review meetings.

This process repeats itself every 4-6 weeks until a product design is finalized. This way, they’re experiencing it in exactly the same way that a customer will, and are able to evaluate it as such.

This process is part of what makes Apple’s designs so very good. Instead of a prototype, which might idealize a design and not take into account changes that occur in the manufacturing process, or sacrifices that have to be made for cost, it evaluates an iPhone or iPad on exactly how the finished product will look, work and feel.

That’s why it’s not odd that a manufacturer might be presented with a request to manufacture a screen for an 8″ iPad. Effectively, this product is likely being manufactured right now, but only in limited quantities for testing purposes. Because that is how Apple does things, end-to-end product development.

It’s incredibly expensive and far more time consuming than normal product development, but it is one of the ways that Apple ensures its products are the best that they can be, period.

So, while there very well may have been a design presented to a manufacturer featuring an 8″ screen, I wouldn’t expect to see it produced along with the 9.7″  iPad 3 early next month, if ever. It’s just Apple being Apple.