Needed: A 7-inch Microsoft Surface or other 7-inch Windows RT tablet to compete with the iPad mini

As Microsoft prepares to unleash a Windows 8 and Windows RT tablet assault, there's one thing notably missing: a 7-inch RT tablet to compete with the just-announced iPad mini and slews of 7-inch Android tablets. Without that missing piece, it will be hard for Microsoft gain a big tablet market share.

As the new iPad mini, the Google Nexus 7, the NOOK Tablet family, and Amazon Kindle Fire family show, there's plenty of demand for small tablets at lower prices than 10-inch ones. I've got NOOKs, Kindles, and the Google Nexus 7 and can attest that the smaller size is in some ways better than larger tablets, notably being more convenient to take with you.

The mere fact of Apple releasing an iPad mini shows that the company knows there's a big demand for a smaller size and smaller price, although in the case of the iPad mini, it's more expensive than competitors.

So where are the Windows RT 7-inch tablets? I've yet to see one announced. (If any of readers have heard of one, please let me know in the comments below.) Without an entrant in the growing 7-inch tablet market, Microsoft will be at a disadvantage.

Making matters  more difficult for Microsoft is that the 7-inch form factor plays against Windows RT's strengths. As many reviews of the Microsoft Surface tablet show, a primary strength of Windows RT is that it ships with a version of Microsoft Office. In the case of the Surface, there's an optional keyboard. So it appears that Microsoft will be touting the Surface as not just a content-consumption device, which is what current tablets are, but as a content-creation device as well. Will people want to run Office on a 7-inch screen? Most likely not.

Still, if Microsoft is going to make headway in the tablet market, it needs a competitively priced tablet to go up against all the other 7-inch tablets. It looks as if we'll have to wait a while -- and maybe a very long while -- for one to appear.

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