Mini Windows 8 tablets are in the works, but it may be a while before it joins the Surface in retail.
Coming off another round of record-settings earnings, Microsoft finally revealed on April 18 that the company is, in fact, working on building an ecosystem for small, Windows 8 tablets. The disclosure came after news reports and changes to the company's own Windows tablet guidelines that pointed to a smaller Windows slate to compete with popular devices like Apple's iPad Mini and Amazon's Kindle Fire.
Last month, ZDNet's Ed Bott noticed that Microsoft quietly updated its Windows 8 certification requirements for OEMs, opening the door to 7-inch tablets. The changes were outlined in the March 12 edition of the Windows Certification Newsletter, which relaxed the display resolution requirements to 1024 by 768 pixels.
Bott suggested that, at least in the near term, the chances of a flood of 7-inch Windows tablet are remote. "From the announcement, it appears that the new guidelines are effective immediately, but it's likely that any new devices that use this form factor will ship along with the forthcoming Windows Blue update," he wrote.
Remarks by Microsoft Chief Financial Officer Peter Klein lend some support to that line of thinking. During the April 18 third-quarter earnings call, Klein, who is leaving the company at the end of the fiscal year, said, "We also are working closely with OEMs on a new suite of small touch devices powered by Windows."
Expect those gadgets to bring added competition to the budget tablet space, just not right away. "These devices will have competitive price points, partly enabled by our latest OEM offerings designed specifically for these smaller devices, and will be available in the coming months," added Klein.
Klein stopped short of announcing a Surface Mini, but for some industry watchers, it's a foregone conclusion.
Sources told The Wall Street Journal that a trimmer Surface is happening. "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," the Journal reported April 11.
Klein also broached the topic of the Windows Blue upgrade and offered an indication that the company may be backtracking on the requirement to boot to Windows 8's splashy start screen. "Looking ahead, we will release the next version of Windows, code-named Windows Blue, which further advances the vision of Windows 8 as well as responds to customer feedback," he said.
According to reports, Windows Blue will give users the oft-requested option to boot directly to the desktop instead of the touch-friendly, app-centric start screen.
The Verge's Tom Warren reported on April 16 that Microsoft is now testing Windows 8.1 (Blue), which includes an option to bypass the start screen. However, the behavior won't be enabled by default, sources revealed. "We're told that the option is disabled by default, allowing users to simply turn on the functionality should they want to avoid the 'Metro' Start Screen at initial boot or log-in," he wrote.