These are complex times for Microsoft. It seems that with every gain it makes, a setback looms.
The company embraces the cloud, and loses some lucrative server-based software licenses. It makes its own Windows hardware (Surface) and OEMs feel betrayed. If it decides to make Office available on iPads and Android tablets, then the Surface and other Windows 8 tablets aren't the only tablets that exclusively run Office anymore. One step up, two steps back.
The newest piece of scuttlebutt is that Microsoft is working on making Windows 8 available in a 7-inch form factor. According to a Windows certification newsletter discovered by ZDNet blogger and veteran Microsoft watcher Ed Bott, Microsoft has lowered the minimum resolution for Windows 8 devices (from 1,366 by 768 to 1,024 by 768). This would allow hardware partners to build Windows 8 tablets at a smaller screen size.
I've written before that at 10.6-inches the Surface Pro and Surface RT are too big and power-hungry to be what users want a tablet to be: That is, ultra-thin, light as feather, battery life that lasts 10 hours, and a device that can fit in your hand and your pocket.
The iPad set the standard at 9.7 inches, but along came the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Google Nexus 7 and suddenly the iPad looked like a big oaf. We want our tablets smaller and 7 or 8 inches seems about the right number. Apple adjusted to the demand and released the iPad Mini, a 7.9-inch version of the original iPad. The Mini has sold well.
Microsoft can't ignore the excitement around 7-inch tablet space. In January, NPD DisplaySearch forecast that 7- and 8-inch tablets would account for about 45 percent of all tablet sales during 2013, the 9.7-inch category dominated by the iPad. Ten-inch tablets will comprise 17 percent of all tablet sales in 2013, according to NPD DisplaySearch.
It seems inevitable that Microsoft's 10-inch Windows 8 tablets will slim down and move to where the consumers are. A Surface-branded Reader with full access to Barnes & Noble's library of e-books would be very intriguing, as ZDNET's Bott points out. Microsoft will have to price these devices accordingly -- $200 at the most.
Yet a 7-inch Windows 8 tablet, be it a Surface device or one made by a partner, would face even more fierce competition. Established players like the aforementioned Kindle Fire, Google Nexus 7 and iPad Mini (7.9 inches) have already won the hearts and minds of users. Here comes Microsoft with its 7-inch Windows 8 tablets, late to yet another market!
And if 7-inch Windows 8 tablets do gain sales and momentum, what does that mean for Office deployments on tablets? The 7-inch form factor is too small for practical use of Office docs. The Office productivity suite is an area where Microsoft still has great power. It's still unclear if Microsoft will make the Office suite available on iPads and Android tablets, but that strategy hits a snag if everybody is using tablets that are too small to take advantage of Office.
But even if the move to smaller tablets causes problems for Microsoft, it may be a boon for you, the content-consuming tablet user. If you like the Windows 8 UI and you've played around with Surface and other Windows 8 tablets but you find them too big, a 7-inch tablet is something to get excited about.
What do you think? Should Windows 8 get in the 7-inch tablet race? Would you buy one?