Thus far, all touchscreen Windows tablet launched today are sized with a minimum of a 10-inch display, but recent comments from Microsoft during its earnings call confirm what we’ve been hearing all along–Windows 8 will be coming to a smaller screen sizes. Microsoft’s outgoing chief financial officer Peter Klein says that this will happen soon, but gave no definitive timeline.
Given that Windows Blue is slated to be launched later this year, and Microsoft’s developer-centric BUILD conference will be happening in San Francisco, California in late June, we can perhaps look towards the second half of the year to see when this would happen. Perhaps, Microsoft and/or some of its OEM hardware partners will have something for show-and-tell by June.
And even the Windows experience is still up for a lot of speculations as there are still a number of possibilities on how Microsoft could achieve this new vision.
First, Microsoft could retool Windows code and refine the UI so that it would be a pleasant experience on Windows Blue. This would be the simplest and most straightforward solution. Even on the 10.6-inch display of Microsoft’s Surface Pro, the classic desktop mode feels cramped and small. The company has been rumored to be considering a 7-inch Surface tablet.
The second possibility would be Microsoft entering the wearable computing market, something that we’ve heard rumors about in the recent past. Microsoft has been rumored to be working on a Google Glass competitor and more recently there are some speculations that the company may re-enter the smartwatch market. In the past, Microsoft had made some attempts in the wristwatch category with its SPOT watches, but those devices never really gained traction. We’ll have to see how Windows or some variant of the OS will work on these new form factors for Microsoft. Reportedly, Microsoft will market these smartwatches under its own brand as its Xbox team is rumored to be developing them right now.
Still, there’s a third option, and that would be something that seems a bit more far fetched. Microsoft has made a lot of progress on unifying the underlying kernel on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, allowing developers to easily and quickly port apps developed for one platform to the other between the desktop and the phone. With Blue, Microsoft is rumored to combine Windows Phone and Windows into one, allowing the OS to scale and run in either phone mode or tablet/desktop mode depending on the hardware it detects. We can also potentially see some Windows phablets in the future. I personally don’t think Microsoft is ready for this yet, but it’s still a possibility. By going with this third option, we can have Windows coming to a 4-inch phone screen.
And Microsoft really does need to race to the smaller screen as it’s a very popular and portable size. Whereas 10-inch devices live at home, 7- and 8-inch tablets are more mobile gadgets that people will readily take with them wherever they go. Personally, I never take my Galaxy Note 10.1 or iPad out of the house, but with the iPad mini and the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, I’m more than happy to take those devices with me on the road as travel companions. They’re both light enough to be held comfortably when reading an e-book, large enough to see a movie without squinting, and portable enough to carry around without looking too geeky.
Microsoft and its OEM hardware partners may likely have to wait until Intel’s next-generation Atom processor to come. This will give these devices a more affordable price tag while at the same time delivering some serious performance. According to TechCrunch, Klein says that Microsoft will be “expanding and improving the experience, not just for Surface, but for Windows 8 devices at multiple price points, including lower price points going forward.” This matches what Intel had said about a potential $200 Windows tablet.