Why Microsoft's new 7-inch design specs will help Windows 8 tablets succeed

Newly published design specs will allow hardware companies to create 7-inch Windows 8 tablets. That's clearly designed to help Microsoft compete in the growing small tablet market. Here's why it will help Microsoft gain serious market share.

The new specs allow Windows 8 devices to have minimum screen resolutions of 1024 x 768 at a depth of 32 bits. Previously, the minimum had been at 1366 x 768. Those new specs clear the way for 7-inch Windows 8 devices.

Ed Bott first uncovered the new specs, which are laid out in the March 12, 2013 Windows Certification Newsletter. Here's what the newsletter said about the new specs:

We're changing the System.Client.Tablet.Graphics.MinimumResolution requirement to create a consistent minimum resolution of 1024 x 768 at a depth of 32 bits across all Windows 8 system form factors. The physical dimensions of the display panel must still match the aspect ratio of the native resolution. This doesn't imply that we're encouraging partners to regularly use a lower screen resolution. In fact, we see customers embracing the higher resolution screens that make a great Windows experience. We understand that partners exploring designs for certain markets could find greater design flexibility helpful.

The design change was clearly made to allow Microsoft to compete with a host of 7-inch tablets from competitors, including the iPad Mini, the Google Nexus 7, the Kindle Fire HD, and the NOOK HD.

As Bott points out, it could also clear the way for a Microsoft eReader tablet. Microsoft has formed a joint venture with Barnes and Noble, maker of the NOOK HD, and so far nothing has come of the deal or Microsoft's investment. The new 7-inch spec would allow a Windows-based eReader tablet to replace the NOOK HD.

The NOOK HD hardware is superior to the Kindle HD, but B&N has been unable to match Amazon's marketing might. Microsoft can match or exceed it. In addition, Microsoft doesn't yet have a book platform. A Windows based eReader tablet would give it one. More than that, it would also be a platform for buying video and other entertainment. It could also tie into Microsoft's thriving gaming ecosystem that now stretches from PCs to gaming consoles, but isn't particularly strong in mobile.

I don't expect 7-inch Windows tablet to ever outsell iPad minis, although with the right design, they could compete well against Android tablets. Microsoft's best bet is with a combination eReader/full-blown tablet via its B&N partnership. Single-purpose eReader tablets don't have much of a future, but general-purpose ones do.

Imagine a Windows tablet that taps into B&N's vast book repository as well as its growing video offerings, that ties into Microsoft's successful gaming ecosystem, and that includes Microsoft's surprisingly good XBox Music app. Now imagine that it can also run a whole host of Windows apps, including some version of Office.

That's a tablet that can be a winner. And the newly announced Windows 8 tablet spec may well clear the way for it.

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