Microsoft may be busy making changes to the Windows technical requirements and licensing terms to pave the way for smaller Windows tablets. For the most part, however, the company has only hinted that sub 10-inch tablets could be in the works. That changed recently after the company came awfully close to confirming a 7-inch Windows tablet was on the way.
"We...are working closely with OEMs on a new suite of small touch devices powered by Windows," said outgoing chief financial officer Peter Klein during Microsoft's third quarter earnings call Thursday.
Klein offered few details about the upcoming devices other than to say they will be priced competitively and available in the coming months. He didn't mention anything about display sizes, form factors, specific manufacturers, or branding for the upcoming devices. So while it's tempting to assume Microsoft was talking about a 7-inch Windows tablet, we can't say for sure that's what he was referencing.
Nevertheless, a lot of rumors floating around out there suggest that 7-inch Windows 8 slates are coming. Most recently, Microsoft dropped its minimum allowable screen resolution for Windows tablets to 1024-by-768, making it easier for small and low-priced tablets to make the cut. A leaked copy of Windows Blue, an upcoming Windows 8 revamp, allows you to use the Windows 8 Snap feature with 1024-by-768 resolutions. Current versions of Windows 8 cap the Snap feature at 1366-by-768. Snap lets you view two modern UI apps (or the desktop and one modern UI app) at once. The feature would be a key differentiator for a 7-inch Windows tablet as Android and iOS slates don't have a similar feature to view apps simultaneously--and no, Android widgets don't count.
Vendor deals support smaller tablets
During Thursday's earnings call, Klein also said that the new tablets were made possible by the company's "latest OEM offerings designed specifically for these smaller devices." In March, reports surfaced that Microsoft could slash licensing fees for Windows and Office to as little as $30 for touchscreen devices with displays less than 10.8 inches. Typically, a Windows and Office bundle costs computer makers around $120.
Unless Microsoft and its partners are planning 9-inch netbooks running Windows 8, it's a good guess that Windows-based competitors are coming to take on the Nexus 7, iPad mini, and Kindle Fire. But there's a lot we still don't know about the expected devices. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Microsoft was working on a 7-inch Surface. But are other tablets in the works from Microsoft partners such as HP, Dell, or Samsung? Will these tablets have ARM-based processors, and thus run Windows RT? Or will they have an x86 processor allowing them to run the regular version of Windows 8 and have access to legacy desktop apps? Would you even want the desktop on a 7-inch device? Will they feature a "killer app" to make small Windows tablets more desirable than Android or iOS slates?
There are still a lot of questions to be answered about any small-fry Windows devices in the pipeline, but the good news is we may only have a few months to wait for an official release.