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Microsoft changes pave way for smaller Windows tablets

Ian Paul | April 1, 2013
If you've been holding out hope for a 7-inch tablet running Windows 8, you may soon get your wish. Recent Microsoft policy changes, leaked software builds, and supply chain rumors suggest it's not a matter of if a small-fry Windows 8 tablet is headed your way, but when.

If you've been holding out hope for a 7-inch tablet running Windows 8, you may soon get your wish. Recent Microsoft policy changes, leaked software builds, and supply chain rumors suggest it's not a matter of if a small-fry Windows 8 tablet is headed your way, but when.

Microsoft recently made a change to its hardware certification program that lowers the minimum allowable screen resolution for Windows 8 tablets from 1366-by-768 to 1024-by-768. The change, first reported by ZDNet, is significant since it opens the door to officially sanctioned Windows 8 tablets with displays smaller than 10 inches.

"This doesn't imply that we're encouraging partners to regularly use a lower screen resolution," Microsoft wrote in its Windows hardware certification newsletter announcing the change in mid-March. "[But] we understand that partners exploring designs for certain markets could find greater design flexibility helpful."

Those "certain markets" requiring "greater design flexibility" could be a nod to developing markets, where cheaper hardware with lower screen resolutions could sell well. But it also provides an opportunity for a Windows 8 tablet--let's call it the Surface Mini--to take on devices like the Kindle Fire HD (1280-by-800), Nexus 7 (1280-by-800), and iPad Mini (1024-by-768).

When Windows 8 was still a work in progress, Microsoft was aiming for tablets sized at 10-inches and up, which were the only significant tablets around at the time. The first of the significant 7-inch devices, Amazon's Kindle Fire, didn't show up until late 2011, and smaller tablets weren't truly a phenomenon until the Nexus 7 and the iPad Mini appeared in mid-2012. By that time, Windows 8 was practically finished and the first round of Windows 8 products were already in the works.

Snappy decision

Opening the door for resolutions lower than 1366-by-768 is only one issue Microsoft needs to address before 7-inch tablets become a reality, however.

Lower resolutions would also kill Snap, a Windows 8 dual-pane feature that lets you display two modern UI apps (or one modern UI app and the traditional desktop) side-by-side. Under the current builds of Windows 8, Snap only works with a minimum screen resolution of 1366-by-768. Although it's just one feature, Snap is significant since it is the only way to view two full-screen, Modern UI apps simultaneously, and the ability to multitask effectively would be a key point of differentiation separating 7-inch Windows tablets from their Android- and Apple-powered competition.

But Microsoft may be solving this problem with Windows Blue, an update to Windows 8 expected later this year. A recently leaked build of Windows Blue, as revealed by a YouTube user on Monday, shows the snap feature working at a resolution of 1024-by-768.

 

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