Meeting in the middle: How Microsoft will enable mini Surfaces and maxi Win Phones

Meeting in the middle: How Microsoft will enable mini Surfaces and maxi Win Phones

Summary: With Windows Blue and a coming Windows Phone 8 update, Microsoft will open the door for smaller-screen tablets and bigger-screen phones from a variety of OEMs, including itself.


With Windows Blue and a coming Windows Phone 8 update, Microsoft will give legs to its plan to enable OEMs -- including Microsoft itself -- to support a burgeoning category of tweener devices, including min tablets and big-screen smartphones.

Credit: CNET UK

Just a year ago, Microsoft execs were pooh-poohing the advantage of smaller screen sizes for Windows devices, claiming smaller screens wouldn't allow users to handle adequately both creation and consumption tasks. But in the face of robust demand for mini tablets from its competitors, Microsoft execs changed their tune. Now the message is that Windows 8 was designed from the outset to run on smaller and bigger screens at different resolutions, primarily thanks to its new app model.

While Microsoft's new positioning is in place, at the moment, Windows Phone and Windows PC/tablet makers don't have great options in the mid-range. Microsoft really doesn't have Windows variants that are optimized for for devices with screen sizes between four and eight inches.

With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft didn't allow handset makers to put the Windows Phone OS 7 on devices with screens above 4 inches or so. That's one reason PC makers never debuted Windows Phone OS-powered tablets and had to license "full" Windows for these kinds of devices, instead.

With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft moved to a screen-resolution limit to control which Windows variant OEMs could install. Currently, the Windows Phone 8 operating system supports a maximum resolution of 720p. Putting the OS on larger screens would make the tiled UI look worse, some have argued.

But, as the Verge noted earlier this week, it looks like Microsoft is poised to change this, and will be adding support for 1080p with an update to the Windows Phone 8 operating system later this year.

One of my contacts confirmed that, as the Verge reported, the so-called "GDR3" (General Distribution Release 3) Windows Phone 8 update is where Microsoft will make this change. My contact said GDR3 will add support for five- to six-inch devices with 1080p support. Along with the higher resolution, GDR3 also could include changes in the start screen and core Windows Phone 8 apps, such as possibly adding a third column of mid-size-tiled apps in the start screen, my source added. 

GDR3 is expected to be the last Windows Phone 8 OS update Microsoft releases before it introduces Windows Phone Blue. Windows Phone Blue is expected to arrive a number of months after Windows Blue, a k a Windows 8.1, possibly as late as early 2014.

It's not just a case of Windows Phone OS specs going up, however. Windows specs are coming down, too.

Windows RT doesn't really scale well below eight inches, one of my contacts told me, because the buttons and the user interface get too small. Additionally, it's not well designed for portrait mode, which is how most mini tablets tend to be used. But with Windows RT 8.1 ( Windows RT Blue), there supposedly will be improved support for portrait mode and higher-pixel-density devices, which is what would make smaller screened devices -- such as a 7-inch or 8-inch Surface, for example -- truly usable.

(Related aside: I'm going to be very curious to see if rumored 7-inch or 8-inch Surfaces are the same as the rumored "Xbox Surface." I wouldn't be surprised)

All of this maneuvering is going to enable Windows and Windows Phone makers to field everything from Windows Phones with up to six-inch screens, to Windows tablets with seven-inch screens. It supposedly doesn't open the door for OEMs making phoneless Windows Phone devices or Windows RT devices with phone support built in. But maybe one day....

Topics: Windows 8, Microsoft, Tablets, ARM, PCs, Windows Phone


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Meeting in the middle: How Microsoft will enable mini Surfaces and maxi Win

    I would be happy with a larger Microsoft Windows Phone 8 device but not to the point where its a "phablet." Its nice to see Microsoft is thinking about future growth with Windows and allowing it to be flexible.
    • Pathetic desperation

      MS has been trying to control both the OEMs and the consumer, and are failing miserably, hence the change.

      And now this:

      I never liked MS much, but now I am starting to despise them. Windows 7 will be my last "contact" with MS. From now on it will be open source all the way.

      Way to go Ballmer/MS.
      • Didn't read the link

        It said opinion in it so I knew not to trust it.
        • yeah right

          whenever there's a positive opinion about MS, you immediately agree with it no questions asked. I've seen some of your other posts.
          • Yet...

            You've never seen any of D.T. Long's before. Interesting.
        • I agree with

          Loverock-Davidson (cool name). It does say opinion.

          I read a lot of articles but I only really trust Mary Jo or Paul Thurrott. They don't just try to get readers. They don't pick sides, they just tell tech news.

          D.T.Long Later, have fun and good luck. At least your not going apple.
      • Good riddance

        don't let the door slam your face
        • Can't even get the saying straight

          I think it is "slam you in the a$$", but stupidity seems to be par for the course with MS shills.

          And it will be me and millions of others.
          • Sound of Music?

            Maybe he should have just hummed: "So long. Farewell. Auf Weidersehen. Goodbye!"
          • D.T.Long, I think he meant to say that.

            As in you're "talking out you a$$" since people talk out of there mouths, and the mouth is located on their face......

            It was just a thought, not taking sides.
            William Farrel
          • "And it will be me and millions of others."

            Idle threat. Maybe you should start first.
      • Errrmmm ... no.

        This lawsuit is not about OSS. It's about Google using the Microsoft techniques from the '90's to gain market share by giving software away for free:

        "Fairsearch believes that it's "predatory" for a company to gain market share by giving its software away for free."
        • Basic comprehension

          All OSS SW can be had for free. It is therefore GIVEN away for free. Hence it is very much about OSS.

          A SLOW re-read of the link may be in order. You may get more out of it the second time.
          • I agree with you ...

            ... a slow re-read most certainly is in order. When you do, you might comprehend the complaint that Google is trying to increase its market share by giving its software away for free.
        • I agree. It's one thing to give away a free OS directly to end users

          It's something altogether different for a company to give away free components to another company, which is what Android really is, just another component for a smartphone.

          Imagine or Qualcomm giving away it's phone processors to OEM's, thus bleeding their competitors? It is after all, as is Android, just another smartphone component.

          Google is offering up a smartphone component for free, with continued support, that others have to sell since that is how they make their money, selling OS's.

          A nice way to entice OEM's to choose Android over everything else. Yet that's illegal for other companies to do, why is it different here?
          William Farrel
      • you better start from today

        you already have "many" open source options in "Linux" and you can start trying them already. It's other thing that you'll wonder whole life what to use them for and trying to remember which options is found where. and pray to god that they dont' try to be innovative with them because then you'll not even have an open source to bet on
      • Good riddance

        Please don't bother boring us with your drivel again. We GET it. You hate Microsoft. Buy whatever you like just don't bore us with your mindless hatred. Thank you.
      • By last "contact"...

        does that include searching out posts about MS and trolling the comment sections as well? Cuz, that'd be noble of you.
    • Phablet's sell, they should be supported

      Pretty much what the subject line says. Microsoft, if they want to cover ALL bases, must cover the Phablet base has well. It's a niche segment that seems to be growing.
      • Re: Phablet's sell, they should be supported

        Should Microsoft some up with yet another OS to cover that market segment? They already have Windows Phone for phones, and Windows RT for reduced-technology PCs, should they have Windows Tablet and Windows Phablet as well?