Apple didn’t send out invitations for an iPad mini launch event on Wednesday, as had been expected, but that’s been barely a hiccup in the rumor mill.

Friday’s wave of speculation comes courtesy of All Things Digital’s John Paczkowski, who suspects that Apple’s planning a more intimate launch event for later this month. Citing sources “familiar with Apple’s plans,” he said that Apple watchers should expect an event on Oct. 23.

Since Apple already pulled out all the stops for its iPhone and iPod launch event, Paczkowski said, they would be unlikely to turn out another major production so quickly. He suspects, though he made clear that he hasn’t been able to confirm a location, that the event will be at Apple’s Town Hall Auditorium, where the company has announced products in the past.

If Paczkowski’s sources are correct, that puts the launch event about a week after the rumor mill consensus from earlier this month.

The first to report that invitations were going out on Oct. 10 was Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt, who took it on the chin and issued a frank apology to his readers for passing on the tip after hearing it from a “major Apple investor.”

“I was wrong to pass the tip along,” he wrote. “I don’t know what I was doing in the rumor business in the first place.”

Still, while Apple hasn’t given official confirmation of any smaller tablet, there is quite a bit of evidence to support that idea the company is planning something.

An Apple Insider report said that retailers are getting instructions for displays to sell a smaller iPad. Retailers, the report said, have also been getting inventory lists that show some of the company’s top accessory manufacturers — Belkin and Kensington — have already made cases for an “iPad mini.”

That doesn’t always indicate confirmation of a product. While case manufacturers may get some hints about what’s in gadget pipelines, some third-party accessory makers have gotten it wrong in the past. For example, when the iPhone 4S came out, some accessory makers were banking on the expectation that its design would be radically different from the iPhone 4. Others said the cases were for the “iPhone 5,” as they didn’t know what name Apple would pick for the phone.

An Oct. 23 launch event, if past behavior is any indication, would likely put the first sales date for the iPad mini sometime in November.

Of course, all of that depends on whether the iPad mini actually exists and, if it is real, how far along is it in the production schedule. The Wall Street Journal and other outlets have reported that Apple suppliers have ramped up the production of 7.85-inch screens. Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu also said in an investor note this week that his checks on the supply chain indicate production of a “smaller form factor iPad.”

That’s plenty for Apple fans to feast on — as long as they remember to keep the salt nearby.

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