Microsoft Readying Surface Mini With 7-Inch Screen: Report

Microsoft hopes to capitalize on the mini tablet craze amid crashing PC sales and a dim outlook for the company's Windows 8 operating system.

Microsoft is looking to cash in on the booming market for small tablets by revamping its Surface tablet portfolio. Currently, the Surface product family includes just basic two models: the ARM processor-based Surface RT and the Intel i5-powered Surface Pro.

According to The Wall Street Journal, a "mini" version of the Surface is in the works. "The software giant is developing a new lineup of its Surface tablets, including a 7-inch version expected to go into mass production later this year, said people familiar with the company's plans," reported the news outfit.

For Microsoft, the device can't arrive too soon.

On April 10, market research firm IDC announced that during the first quarter of 2013, the PC market suffered a huge decline in shipments. In total, PC vendors shipped 76.3 million units in 1Q13, a 14 percent drop compared with the same period a year ago.

The results led IDC to declare that for PC vendors, 1Q13 was the "worst-ever quarter" since the group started tracking the market. The culprit: Windows 8.

"At this point, unfortunately, it seems clear that the Windows 8 launch not only didn't provide a positive boost to the PC market, it's actually hurt the market," Bob O'Donnell, IDC program vice president of Clients and Displays, said in a statement.

While Microsoft maintains that early Windows 8 adoption mirrors that of its popular predecessor, there are signs that the OS is struggling to compete against rival, mobile-centric operating systems such as Apple's iOS and Google's Android. Despite some positive early buzz and encouraging reviews—particularly surrounding the Pro version—Surface is struggling to steal the iPad's thunder.

Since launch, Microsoft has managed to sell only 1.5 million Surface tablets, reported Bloomberg on March 15. By comparison, Apple moved 1.7 million iPads per week during the fourth quarter of 2012.

With its OS dominance on the line, Microsoft appears ready to take more drastic action. The first hints arrived when the software giant stealthily updated its Windows 8 certification requirements, which paved the way for 7-inch tablets.

Windows 8 tablets can now sport a minimum resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels, the pixel count favored by small tablets such as Apple's iPad Mini. For now, Surface resides squarely in the full-sized, 10-inch tablet territory. Surface RT has a 1,366-by-768 display, and Surface Pro splashes visuals on a 1,920-by-1,080 screen.

Now, with those relaxed standards in hand, the Surface team seems poised to downsize Microsoft's homegrown tablet.

"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," said the WSJ report.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...