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Amazon leaks evidence of first smaller, cheaper Windows 8 tablet

Acer Iconia, an 8.1-in. tablet running Windows 8, confirms change in Microsoft's strategy, move toward smaller, less-expensive devices

May 5, 2013 06:59 PM ET

Computerworld - Details of what could be the first smaller Windows 8 tablet leaked Friday when Amazon briefly published a listing for an 8.1-in. Acer Iconia tablet.

The tablet's listing had been pulled from the Amazon.com website by Saturday morning.

Before its disappearance, however, several noticed the Acer Iconia W3-810-1600, including Brad Chacos, a senior writer with PCworld -- like Computerworld, an IDG-owned publication -- and someone identified as "The_Linux_Crew" on the Slickdeals website.

Acer Iconia tablet
A briefly-published listing on Amazon.com showed an Acer Iconia tablet, the first smaller device to run Windows 8. (Image: Slickdeals.)

The since-yanked listing described the Iconia as an 8.1-in. tablet with a screen resolution of 1280 x 800-pixels, a 30% increase over Apple's iPad Mini. Running Windows 8, not the scaled-down Windows RT, the Iconia boasts 32GB of storage space, is powered by a dual-core Intel Atom processor, weighs 1.1 pounds and costs $380.

The iPad Mini, by comparison, weighs 0.7 pounds and starts at $329 for a 16GB model but climbs to $429 for one with 32GB of flash-based storage.

If the Acer Iconia listing was accurate, it would be the first sign of a smaller, less-expensive Windows 8-powered tablet, and the first to benefit from the relaxed rules Microsoft instituted for certified Windows 8 devices.

In March, Microsoft loosened the resolution requirements for certified Windows 8 tablets, dropping the minimum to 1024 x 768-pixels, signaling its acceptance of market realities as sales of tablets 8-in. and smaller quickly climb.

By IDC's estimate, 52% of the tablets shipped in 2013 will feature screens 8-in. or smaller, a 19 percentage point jump from 2012.

Microsoft's departing CFO, Peter Klein, confirmed the strategy shift last month during an earnings call with Wall Street, when he said, "We are working closely with OEMs on a new suite of small touch devices powered by Windows."

At the time, Klein promised smaller Windows tablets "in the coming months."

According to Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, Microsoft is also offering Windows licensing rebates to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) who produce devices with certain processors and in specific form factors, part of an effort to drive retail prices down into the $199 to $399 range.

Acer's Iconia is at the high end of that range.

The tablet's use of Windows 8 also syncs with comments made by Acer last week, when its president, Jim Wong, said Microsoft's operating system "has some chances" even as he downplayed Windows RT.

Its 32GB of storage space, however, may be a problem with Windows 8, since the operating system, bundled software and recovery partition will likely occupy most of that space. Microsoft's own Surface Pro, for example, which comes with 64GB of storage in its entry-level model, has an estimated 30GB available for user content.

It's unclear what Microsoft and Acer would discard to free up room for user content on the 8.1-in. Iconia, although the simplest solution would be to omit the operating system recovery partition.

The Iconia's single USB port, however, could be used to store music, photographs and documents on a flash drive. Amazon's specifications list did not note a MicroSD card slot.

Even with smaller tablets like the Iconia running Windows 8, Microsoft has its work cut out for it this year, analysts have said, noting that the company is caught between the bargain basement prices of Android tablets -- which accounted for 57% of first-quarter shipments by IDC's estimate -- and the premium pricing of Apple's iPads, which grabbed a 40% share.

Microsoft has made some headway, however, with Windows tablet shipments accounting for between 3% (by IDC's projection) and 7% (according to U.K.-based Strategic Analytics) for the first quarter. A year before, Microsoft had essentially zero share of the tablet market.

Acer is not betting exclusively on Windows 8: On Friday, the Taiwanese OEM introduced the Iconia A1, a 7.9-in. Android tablet with a list price of $169.

This article, Amazon leaks evidence of first smaller, cheaper Windows 8 tablet, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed Keizer RSS. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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