Small Windows tablets on the way to satisfy no existing market

The tech world reacted with buzz to leaked information about a small tablet in the works that runs Windows 8. I understand the knee-jerk excitement, but I'm not sure who small tablets might be aimed to please.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor
Acer Win8 tablet
Image: PC World

According to an unintentional leak, Acer is about to release a 8.1-inch tablet for the Windows crowd that is exciting some folks. Small tablets seem to be on the way for Windows customers, and that's a good thing, as choice is always good.

As good as having choice is, I cannot fathom who these little tablets might be aimed at. I like Windows tablets, especially hybrids like my HP Envy x2, as they are suited to take advantage of the dual nature of Windows 8. They work like a laptop when appropriate, and as a tablet when handheld tasks are at hand.

What makes many Windows hybrid computers work is the presence of a good keyboard with a track pad for work tasks. It's not really a tablet at that point, it's a laptop, and that's why it is useful.

I like working with my Envy x2 as a tablet due to its light weight and thin design. It's roughly the same weight as the iPad, and thinner than one. That makes it a full Windows 8 system that's also optimized for handheld use, in large part due to its 11.6-inch touch display.

I don't believe that a 7 or 8 inch tablet is a good form factor for Windows 8 as I'm not sure who might be appropriate to use one. The small screen won't be a good fit to use for serious work in Windows; without the keyboard, I think usefulness will be greatly limited. OEMs will probably have keyboards for these little tablets (like the Acer dock shown in the link below), but with a suitable track pad onboard, these are going to be much bigger than the little tablets.

I've used a number of Windows 8 tablets, the smallest a 10-inch model, and I often require a keyboard with each of them to take advantage of having Windows onboard. Tablet use is mostly limited to leisure type of activities for me, and I suspect that will be the case for most folks with such a small form as these upcoming tablets.

I believe small Windows 8 tablets will require either ARM processors or Intel Atom processors inside. That's the only way to provide enough battery power for such a small tablet and to keep heat down to an acceptable level. The former solution requires Windows RT, which means no regular Windows apps. That sounds perfect for a device that, by design, is primarily a leisure tablet. But if that's the case, then why Windows? Microsoft's own Surface RT tablet doesn't appeal to many folks I speak with about it, as they prefer a full Windows experience. I'm not sure they'd go for RT in a small tablet, either.

The screen resolution will likely be smaller than most standard size tablets currently available, and that will come with a hit to usefulness. The snap view that lets the user pin one app to the side of the screen while using another in the big window will likely not work on these lower resolution small tablets.

The biggest advantage that Windows 8 tablets bring to the market is the ability to run full Windows apps alongside Metro "tablet" apps. Unfortunately, the former style apps probably won't run well on small screens. Such a small display is aimed squarely at running Metro apps for a solid tablet user experience, and that leaves a big part of the Windows experience behind.

Realistically, if you remove the ability (and desire) to run full Windows apps, you might as well get a cheap Android tablet that has thousands more apps. This will provide a much richer user tablet experience than a Windows 8 solution based on my experience with them.

Even the iPad mini, more expensive than many Android tablets, will be better suited for such tablet usage than Windows 8. These iOS and Android tablets are designed from the ground up to be good tablets for those wanting just that. They have no designs to be full OS systems like Windows 8, and that is a big advantage on the smaller screen.

There's no doubt that some users heavily ingrained in the Windows philosophy and ecosystem will find small tablets appealing. That's not a big market in my view, and I believe these users will soon find that when you remove the ability to run all Windows 8 apps well, you eliminate the reasoning behind small tablets with a full OS.

Don't misunderstand me, some users will no doubt love a little tablet with Windows 8, at least at first. Then the realization will set in that they don't do anything with it that they can't do with other tablets exclusively designed to do tablet stuff.

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