Microsoft planning a 7-inch tablet: Is a smaller Surface on the way?

Microsoft planning a 7-inch tablet: Is a smaller Surface on the way?

Summary: After playing catch-up on tablets, Microsoft is making a move into mini slates.

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Microsoft is planning to build a seven-inch Surface tablet with production beginning later this year, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The move will see Microsoft stake its claim on the rapidly-growing market for smaller, lighter and most importantly, cheaper tablets. Among those to have already entered the seven-inch slate market are Apple, Android hardware makers, such as Asus, and Amazon with the Kindle Fire.

The smaller version of Microsoft's so-far slow selling 9.7 inch Surface Pro and RT tablets is a response to Apple's iPad Mini and Google's Nexus 7 tablets, sources close to the company's plans told the WSJ.

While there's no word on branding, it's likely to be a Surface device: Microsoft has repeatedly talked about extending the range with additional models. And while some analysts have found a growing interest in the Surface among enterprises, others have called demand for the existing Surface devices "disappointing". Microsoft has released no sales figures for the RT or Pro, but it is believed to have sold around 900,000 Surface RTs since launching.

Microsoft was tipped to be working on a 7-inch tablet or reader after recently relaxing Windows 8 certification guidelines for the minimum resolution from 1366 x 768 to 1024 x 768. The smaller resolution is in line with the iPad Mini (1024 x 768) and the Kindle Fire HD and Google Nexus 7, which are both 1280 x 800.

Apple's launch last year of the $369 iPad Mini coincided with Microsoft's release of the 9.7-inch Surface RT. Since then the share of smaller tablets has grown, with chopped-down slates accounting for around half the 52 million tablets shipped in the fourth quarter of 2012, according to IDC.

A smaller Surface RT and the arrival of smaller Windows 8 tablets by OEMs may help Microsoft address the pricing challenges it currently faces. IDC noted last November that although Microsoft's Surface offered a third credible choice to consumers, it would struggle at prices starting at $500.

Topics: Tablets, Hardware, Microsoft, Microsoft Surface

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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33 comments
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  • Finally!

    Now can you please move RT onto those and replace the full size rt's with atom powered Pros please MS?... You could call them surface pro lights.. Or, as that sounds like a tobacco brand, surface's and 6 months later we'll get to where we should have been at launch.

    RT was always supposed to be a mobile OS... Like iOS or Android. It's great for little tablets, but it offers little advantage over the existing competition apart from office on bigger tablets. On the other hand, windows 8 has a lot of advantages. Maybe if it were first to market, but it's trying to take a market doing the same thing.
    MarknWill
    • yeah finally! they are always behind rivals!

      n/t
      L3thargic
      • microsoft fail

        The surface is the latest example of Microsoft's inability to innovate. It's laughable how inept they are at innovation. Google probably comes up with more innovation on any/every given day then MS does in a year. MS only responds to the innovation of others, as they have done for many years. They copy and replicate everyone around them, but by the time they do, it's already old news. Things are different now. They are still the biggest boy on the playground, but their 3rd grade approach isn't cutting it with the high school crowd anymore and everybody can see that the 3rd grader might be a little slow in the head.
        Henrique Dourado
        • wow

          You know how to copy and paste.

          Ever thought about a career in IT?
          Saxwulf
          • Agreed!

            @Saxwulf. Was gonna say the same thing. The people that make statements like that are rooting against MS, which is fine, but shows their motives. This is something that MS needs to do: provide a more pure consumption device to compete against iPAD and Android tablets. The idea is that over time, these touch-based programs will run on consumption as well as productivity type devices. I've seen plenty of apps, but not much on the productivity side--this does make sense especially if they can lower the price from Surface RT.
            Giovib
          • IDevice Fan Here!

            As a user of Apple products since 1995, I've seen all the MS/Apple hate wars then and now, actually it was more intense back in the 90's, but, I. Still totally respect Microsoft, the brought computers into the mainstream almost singlehandedly, and though I strongly believe that Tablet an PC UI's should stay 2 different entities, I respect Microsoft for at least trying to bring unity to different interfaces, Mr Copy and paste Henrique up there is just another hater with an anti MS agenda like you see with the anti Apple people here.
            mikeserena
    • I largely agree

      I think MS should come out with an Atom based Surface tablet of regular size. But I believe, MS should also come out with a Windows 8 version of a 7" tablet. The problem is that the Windows 8 app ecosystem has no advantage over the competition, and the Windows ecosystem need to rely on legacy Windows software for its edge. I think a Windows RT 7" tablet sounds good in theory, but Windows tablets really need legacy software to counter Android and iOS in the consumer market, and to dominate the business market. Windows 8 mini-tablets could all come with styluses so that users could navigate the desktop.

      Again, MS needs killer Windows 8/RT killer apps to help really boost the ecosystem, and to give Windows RT a good chance of taking off.
      P. Douglas
      • These already exist

        There are already a selection of tablets running Windows 8 on Atom processors. They don't sell particularly well either. On top of that, the tech reviews pan them for their slow performance.
        the.ksmm
      • Not all windows desktop apps are legacy?

        Microsoft is quick to point out themselves that you have the touch-optimised store apps and desktop apps... Or programs as MS users will be used to calling them.

        PC games, photo shop.. Office.. Are all still being developed for the desktop.

        So far it's been largely a case of a "light" version in the App Store, full version on the desktop.

        A lot of tasks can be replaced (and indeed improved) through improved touch interface apps.. Others will always benefit most from sticking pherials in and using in dektop mode.
        MarknWill
      • Microsoft will alienate their OEMs ...

        ... if they attempt to sell Windows 8 devices at those $300 to $400 price-points.
        M Wagner
  • This time

    They know the drill, they will just order a few hundred and then claim they sold out :)
    mil7
  • Another blow for iPad

    In the long run, Windows 8/9 is going to destory iPad market and Android / Amazon tablets, because One OS will run across all the MS mobile/tablet/PC platforms
    Owllll1net
    • Literary fiction prize award

      Although we recognize this as a work of fiction, the prose style is somewhat naive and juvenile therefore your effort has not made the award. We do thank you for your entry and good luck with your future efforts.
      Alan Smithie
    • Re: In the long run

      Just like, in the long run, a falling stone will fly.

      To stand a chance, you first have to be heading in the right direction.
      ldo17
  • No thanks

    It still has Windows 8 on it. Epic failure again. It might be good if Windows 7 or Linux Mint can be overwritten on it.
    D.J. 43
    • .

      Windows 7 or Linux Mint on a tablet? Really?
      statuskwo5
    • You sir, are a dinosaur

      The PC market is in trouble not because of Windows 8's touch interface, but because PC OEMs failed to recognize the fast moving shift towards touch devices, and produce touch devices with Windows 8. The traditional GUI is quickly dying, and ragging on MS because it did not make a version of Windows 8 with such a dated interface is just silly. If MS had followed your belief, Windows 8 would be a disaster.

      The only real qualms I have with MS is its failure to produce an Atom version of Surface, and its failure to recognize the critical importance of having a Windows applications first policy. Developing huge amounts of apps for the web and other platforms, to the detriment of Windows, was a mistake the company appears to be correcting. As for developing Surface RT instead an Atom version of Surface: it seemed to me that MS wanted to directly give Windows RT a boost, and also expected its OEM partners to take up the Atom Windows 8 tablet slack. Plus it seemed MS didn't want to step on its partners toes. I hope now MS reconsiders its position, and develop an Atom based regular sized tablet.
      P. Douglas
    • This can already be done

      It's already possible to run Windows 7 or Mint on a Surface Pro. Not sure why anyone would do either of those things, but to each his own.
      the.ksmm
  • Is the size the problem or the price?!

    Because if they want to go after the nexus 7 and similars they must give up a lot of profit margin. They could do that with current surface - but they seem not wanting it.

    And what are they going to do with the keyboard/mouse tab? With the dual behavior of current windows 8 I don't see the "desktop mode" working very well without a mouse on a 7 inch display - unless they finally remove the "desktop mode".
    AleMartin
    • Physical constraints

      I suspect that a seven-inch Surface would have similarly sized screen elements but just show fewer of them at a time rather than make them smaller. This would probably be especially important in desktop mode.

      The bigger issue in my opinion is that one of the Surface's killer features is the Touch/Typepad cover that includes an integrated keyboard. What happens to that tremendous value-add when you have a seven- or eight-inch device? Are we back to typing on cramped netbook-style keyboards again?
      the.ksmm