Report: 7-Inch Surface Possibly Coming This Year
Microsoft hopes to compete more directly with tablets like the iPad Mini and Kindle Fire.
.NET developers may soon have a new form factor to consider for their Windows 8 programs.
If media accounts are correct, Microsoft's Surface tablet PCs are about to get a more svelte entry, in the form of a 7-inch model.
The report, published on Thursday by The Wall Street Journal, didn't name its sources for the alleged move. However, the idea ties in with Microsoft's announcement last month that it was reducing the minimum screen resolution required for certified Windows 8 devices from 1366x768 pixels to 1024x768 pixels. That announcement triggered speculation that smaller Windows 8 tablets were in the offing.
A 7-inch Surface will go into production later this year, WSJ said, citing "people familiar with [Microsoft's] plans." Sources told WSJ that the plan to develop smaller tablets was a late-game decision by Microsoft in response to smaller devices using Google Android and Apple iOS.
"One person familiar with Microsoft's product plans said the 7-inch tablets weren't part of the company's strategy last year, but Microsoft executives realized they needed a response to the rapidly growing popularity of smaller tablets like Google Inc.'s 7-inch Nexus, which was announced last summer, and the 7.9-inch iPad Mini introduced by Apple Inc. last October," WSJ reported.
The current Surface devices -- the Surface Pro and the Surface RT -- each have 10.6-inch displays. By comparison, one in two tablets shipped in Q1 2013 has been 8 inches or smaller, according to IDC, which predicted that the tablet market will be increasingly populated by smaller and cheaper devices.
The WSJ report did not mention how much the 7-inch Surface tablet would cost. Current full-size Surface models range from $500 on the low end (32 GB Surface RT with no touch cover) to $1,000 on the high end (128 GB Surface Pro with no touch cover). The Google Nexus 7 tablet currently starts at $199.
For original equipment manufacturers using Windows 8, Microsoft has reportedly slashed the OS licensing costs in response to low sales. Retailers have been observed lowering the prices on Windows RT devices. However, Microsoft hasn't announced its own Surface price reductions so far.
Microsoft's tablet market share badly lags those of market leaders Google and Apple. Windows tablets are projected to capture less than 3 percent of the worldwide market by year's end, according to a March report from IDC. Tablets based on Windows RT are expected to fare even worse, with a market share of less than 2 percent. Devices based on Android and iOS dominate the market handily, and will continue to do so for the next four years, according to the research and consulting firm.
Microsoft's tablet changes carry even more weight in light of the continuing slow performance of the traditional PC market. An IDC report released this week indicates that the PC market has hit its lowest point since 1994, when the firm began tracking worldwide PC shipments. Part of the blame is thought to go to Microsoft's own Windows 8 operating system, which IDC says only "slowed the market" instead of energizing it.
Gladys Rama (@GladysRama3) is the editor of Redmondmag.com, RCPmag.com and AWSInsider.net, and the editorial director of Converge360.