New Windows 8 hardware specs hint at 7-inch tablets and a Microsoft Reader

New Windows 8 hardware specs hint at 7-inch tablets and a Microsoft Reader

Summary: A quiet change in the logo requirements for new Windows 8 devices allows Microsoft's hardware partners to build new devices that would compete with popular 7- and 8-inch tablets like the iPad Mini, Kindle Fire HD, and Google Nexus 7. Could a Microsoft Reader be just around the corner?


Are smaller Windows tablets in iPad dimensions just around the corner? Will Microsoft's long-rumored Reader make its debut along with the Windows Blue update this summer?

Those are distinct possibilities, based on a significant change Microsoft quietly made this month in its hardware certification guidelines for Windows 8 devices.

The new guidelines relax the minimum resolution for Windows 8 devices to 1024 x 768 at a depth of 32 bits. That’s a significant change from the current guidelines, which require a minimum resolution of 1366 x 768 for a device to be certified with the Windows 8 logo. (Windows 8 currently supports the lower resolution for DIY installations by hobbyists, but OEMs have been prohibited from selling new devices with native resolutions lower than 1366 x 768.)  

From the announcement, it appears that the new guidelines are effective immediately, but it’s likely that any new devices that use this form factor will ship along with the forthcoming Windows Blue update.

The announcement was disclosed in the March 12, 2013 Windows Certification Newsletter, which is prepared by the Windows Certification (formerly Logo) Program and goes out to hardware vendors who want to sell systems that are certified by Microsoft as Windows 8-compatible.

System.Client.Tablet.Graphics.MinimumResolution relaxed for Windows 8

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. [emphasis added]

That last, somewhat cryptic line telegraphs a possible reason for the change. It’s no secret that some of the most successful new tablets are inexpensive (sub-$299) devices with 7- and 8-inch displays. The new resolutions would allow manufacturers to introduce devices that are in line with the resolutions of the iPad Mini (1024 x 768) and the Kindle Fire HD and Google Nexus 7 (both 1280 x 800).

This is a major concession on one of the key original design requirements of Windows 8, whose 16:9 aspect ratio resolution makes it awkward to use in portrait resolution. The 16:10 or 4:3 resolutions of competing tablets are better suited for use in portrait mode - as an ebook reader, for example.

Relaxing the minimum specification comes with a significant drawback for users, however, as the Microsoft announcement makes clear:

The lower resolution would disable snap, a feature that allows two Windows Store apps to be viewed simultaneously side by side. To avoid potential consumer disappointment, OEMs need to disclose the loss of snap.

Before a device can qualify to use the Windows 8 logo with a resolution of less than 1366 x 768, the new guidelines require that the OEM must “provide appropriate, clear, and conspicuous disclaimers” to customers. “This disclaimer must disclose that the system doesn't support snap,” the announcement continues. It also helpfully includes some suggested text:

The integrated display resolution of this system is below the threshold for snap, a feature that lets people view two Windows Store apps at the same time. App snapping will work if you attach an external display that supports a screen resolution of 1366 x 768 or higher.

As Matt Rosoff pointed out on Twitter, Microsoft's transformation to a devices and services company has "been pretty light on the devices so far..."

The company hasn't been shy about its plans to expand beyond the PC-as-tablet form factor. In a talk at a Goldman Sachs technology conference in February, Microsoft CFO Peter Klein talked about "a set of experiences that are complete, that are compelling, and they are consistent across a whole range of form factors and devices ... whether that's 4-inch, 5-inch, 7-inch, 8-inch, 10-inch, 13-inch. And along with our partners in the ecosystem we'll work through that based on underlying demand."

It might be just a coincidence, but this week I also received a promotional mailing from Microsoft’s Windows team, with the subject line “Travel the world with Windows and NOOK.” The latter is a pitch for Barnes & Noble’s NOOK for Windows app, not the critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful hardware device from the struggling bookseller.

We haven’t heard much about it lately, but we’re approaching the one-year anniversary of a patent settlement between Microsoft and Barnes & Noble. As my colleague Mary Jo Foley wrote last April, Microsoft has discussed creating its own e-reader:

One of my sources said that Microsoft and B&N had been working on a partnership for a while via which Microsoft would build an e-reader and B&N would build the back-end bookstore. According to that source, the partnership fizzled, perhaps due in part to the Microsoft Courier tablet effort (which also fizzled).

But the idea that there could be some kind of dedicated, Windows-powered e-reader didn't die. In fact, Microsoft execs have continued to tout the idea that an e-reader is part of the gamut of devices that will be powered by Windows. Just a month ago, in fact, Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner, mentioned again during a keynote that e-readers will be one of a handful of form factors where Microsoft's Metro interface/design style will play in the future.

In a separate post, Mary Jo notes the formation of a joint Microsoft/B&N company (Nook Media LLC, called “NewCo” in the SEC disclosure), with this tantalizing language in the agreement:

"Microsoft Reader. If Microsoft creates a reader, Microsoft may include an interface to the NewCo Store in that reader and may surface in that reader all Content purchased by customers from the NewCo Store."

The idea of an inexpensive 7-inch Surface-branded Reader, running at a resolution of 1024 x 768 with full access to Barnes & Noble’s extensive library, is indeed intriguing. And of course it wouldn't be just for e-books. With the ability to run the Amazon Kindle app and access the massive Xbox music, video, and games platform it would be instantly useful as an entertainment device.

It would certainly silence the critics who’ve said that the current Surface line is too expensive.

A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment on this report.

Thanks to reader @explanoit for the tip.

Topics: Tablets, Amazon, Google, iPad, Microsoft, Microsoft Surface

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  • Great!

    This a smart move from Microsoft if true. This will give them access to costumers with lower budgets, because the RT and Pro were still pretty expensive compared to cheaper (in every way) android budget tablets and the Kindle.
    Simon Tupper
    • Finally!

      I've been saying this for ages. 7 inch rt, 11inch atom pro please. Nobody wants to spend 500 quid on rt.

      To be honest unless they do something about the prices, they won't be silencing any critics. They are too expensive. Well that's not fair, rt is too expensive. Icore tablets are fairly priced, they're just particularly niche in their market base. There's no mention of them being more affordable?

      It's like when the ipad mini came out and people ranted about the price... Why did you assume apple were going to start running cheap because they made it smaller?
      • The Surface RT is a premium product, I happen to have one and

        It is a fully capable tablet, but not intended to replace a PC. A Surface Reader would also be a premium product, so would be a 7" Surface. Microsoft is not going to go in the cheap category anytime soon, but they will get closer to it (a little bit like apple). Every hardware Microsoft made was premium quality even if it was a complete flop.
        Simon Tupper
        • I agree, we have 3 ...

          The RT is a fantastic school PC for kids, and a great ultra portable with fantastic all day battery life. I'm using one now. With built in Office and constant software updates we are big fans. Would a 7/8" tablet make sense? Sure it would. Metro/Modern is ideal for that size and it would be more affordable as well as more portable for reading, gaming and movies. Sign me up that way we can retire our first gen fire's which need to go.
          • yeah the Surface left that impression to me too

            It's a fine product that suffers from Microsoft's bad reputation. Anyone who tried mine were impressed in a way or another. Every OS is good and it only depends on what you want and what you have been told.
            Simon Tupper
          • and what you heard about the product.*****

            Simon Tupper
          • They are "impressed" but

            still decide not to buy? I don't think you really understand what "impress" means.
          • Most of them

            Probably already have a tablet... Or don't want a tablet...

            if people made their own ideas about the products they want to buy by trying it first, I think the market shares of all OS would be pretty even.
            Throw All The Things
          • surface 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. Microsoft reminds me of the Brady movie where every design by Mike Brady was the same 70's look regardless of place or time. Only the Brady movie was funny, MS is just a pathetic factory of sadness. It's like someone stupid has been who keeps trying to get the crowd going on a joke that was only funny 20 years ago. Sad and pathetic.
            Josy Vieira
          • The surface pro is probably the most innovative hardware of 2012 and

            Maybe 2013 too. Stop saying nonsense like this... I could not compare the new Microsoft to the old Microsoft since it changed a lot since then. You are lost in time of you didn't read much good press about Microsoft these days, but you keep on reading the bad news. Not very clever.
            Simon Tupper
          • most innovative?!?!?!

            Perhaps the most innovative windows product certainly not the most innovative tech product, or the most innovative tablet. If you really think this is the most innovative of either of these 2 categories you should have tried to get out of prison sooner.
            Chad Perkins
          • "constant software updates we are big fans"

            This only means that you guys are geeks. It is because the general public don't really care about update. They don't even want to waste time to understand what update is all about.

            We may see a lot of people who come here talk about iOS/Android updates. However, this is not really the case among general public.

            If RT is mainly for those people who understand and care "constant software updates", it will surely fail.
        • Surface RT is not supposed to be a premium product

          It will surely fail if it is classified as a premium product when it:

          1) Cannot replace a PC
          2) Very few app

          MS is not Apple. The general public never consider a Windows device must be premium product (e.g. there are many cheap Windows desktop/laptop). The situation is even worse when there are so few apps for Windows RT. People are not going to buy "a good hardware" when "app selections suck".
          • this as nothing to do with the tablet

            Itself... It the ecosystem that is not yet on par with the competition. Then you just don't understand that windows RT was meant to be a tablet that could do some laptop work like the iPad, while windows Pro is meant to be a tablet that does most of what a laptop can do. Its nit about replacing it... Its about offer a tablet that actually does more.. Heck I love Linux and I understood that, so I'm the living proof that you can cheer for something else than Microsoft and still understand what Microsoft is doing, but somehow a big bunch of people cannot see to figure it out.
            Throw All The Things
          • Yes it is...

            No MS is NOT Apple, but they do not carry the low end hardware market either. If you want cheaper RT setups, you are not limited to Surace products:
          • Microsoft < Innovative

            They certainly never created a premium operating system. Just a more and more flawed one since XP. What microsoft cinsiders innovation is making products that are almost identical to the one they built the year before, but with a little lipstick. Windows Vista, 7, and 8 have all been pitiful.
            Chad Perkins
          • @Chad

            Yet Windows vista, 7 and 8 all have more market share than their Desktop counterparts.

            So millions of pitiful people are there, I guess.
        • I like the Surface RT

          but, I don't consider it premium. Lack of GPS, while not important for everyone, is a feature that one expects in a premium tablet; especially considering most of the competition has it in their products.
          • Lack of GPS killed it for me

            The digitiser and portability is all great, but.. no GPS? You can't work with any mapping software, which would be the ideal use for such device. Ok, you can bring in an external GPS receiver, but this brings you back to the laptop days...

            Integration is key here.
          • No GPS killed sale!

            Ditto! Went in to buy a Surface Pro only to find it has no GPS. My primary use was for navigation in my RV as well as portable Web device. Don't want to have to use USB GPS.

            What I really want is an iPad mini running Windows 8!