Judging from mounting evidence, Microsoft is very keen to make a splash with smaller tablets, a market that, as the iPad Mini's success attests, has become quite popular.
A March 12 Windows Certification Newsletter delivered the latest indication that Microsoft is eyeing the iPad Mini and Nexus 7's turf. With the posting, Redmond lowered Windows 8's minimum resolution standards; whereas certification has previously required 1366x768-pixel resolution, Microsoft will now approve devices equipped with only 1024-768-pixel screens.
Typically, larger, 10-inch tablets utilize high-definition screens. But as the iPad Mini's 1024x768-pixel resolution has demonstrated, buyers are willing to trade display density for smaller form factors and lower prices.
Combined with reports that Microsoft is incentivizing OEMs to focus on small-screened Windows 8 devices, the newest development strongly suggest Windows Blue will be well represented by 7-inch tablet models. Indeed, some have already predicted a Surface-branded "Reader" that leverages Microsoft's Barnes & Noble investment. If nothing else, those who found the Surface RT intriguing but too expensive could see many more appealingly-priced RT models hit the market.
Windows Blue involves more than just diminutive tablets, of course--and given that a Retina-equipped iPad Mini might appear later this year, Redmond's interest in other form factors is wise.
According to the leaked build, Windows Blue includes increased support for particularly high-resolution screens, and Microsoft executives have repeatedly mentioned that Windows 8 is engineered to scale to different screen sizes. If lightweight tablets aren't your thing, Windows Blue should debut in many other shapes and sizes.
5. Apps remain a key factor.
Even with Windows Blue's enhancements, the Modern UI's app store continues to trail those of its major competitors. Redmond has been proactive on this front, launching upgrades to several Windows 8 core apps and, in a somewhat more questionable move, offering programmers $100 bonuses for each new app. But Redmond still needs to do more; no matter what improvements Blue brings, Microsoft will need inspired efforts from developers if it is to threaten Apple and Google's tablet dominance.
Office president DelBene's remarks about touch functions are an encouraging sign that Microsoft is exploring user experiences that its competitors have yet to bring to market. A report that Microsoft has assembled a secret team to build "risky" apps is more encouraging still. But until these indications translate to results, Windows 8 will be fighting an uphill battle, with or without Blue's enhancements.
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