Microsoft is getting ready to release a mini-tablet, according to news reports. The tech giant has issued an invitation for a press event May 20 that it is describing as a "small gathering."
As Apple and Samsung do in their event invitations, Microsoft's choice of wording in this and other invitations, notably its reference to "small," is seen hinting about the product being unveiled. The company's tablets currently have 10.6-inch touchscreens.
The new mini-Surface will feature a 7.5-inch, 1440x1080 display, according to The Verge, and it will run Windows RT instead of the full Windows 8. If this report is accurate, it means that the new tablet would not be able to run legacy Microsoft software . If so, the intended purpose might be more as a media consumption device.
Last month, The Wall Street Journal also reported that Microsoft was working on a 7-inch model, in addition to other new versions. However, at the time the Journal said the Windows 8 spec was being adjusted to handle tablets with smaller screen resolutions. The Verge also indicated in April that Microsoft was looking to release a 7-inch tablet, but under the Xbox brand.
Laura DiDio, an analyst with Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, told us that "it's fine if they have an RT version, as long as they don't have a lot of versions that confuse everybody." She noted the popularity of small tablets because "they can fit into your pocket or your purse."
Ross Rubin, principal analyst with Reticle Research, wondered if a smaller Surface would also have a keyboard option, which he called "one of the most distinguishing characteristics of the Surface." He noted that it could be "more challenging" to have a decent typing experience on a device with, say, an 8-inch screen -- although he pointed out that "Logitech has done a nice job with a keyboard for the iPad mini."
RT Plus Windows Phone?
Rubin said having RT on a mini-Surface could help its market positioning, since it would employ "a more affordable [ARM] processor and be more competitive with Android tablets."
There had been some speculation that, because other manufacturers were abandoning RT, the OS was not long for this world. But Rubin suggested that, if Microsoft does use RT in the mini-Surface, the company's eventual intention could be "combining the RT OS with the Windows phone, which is also ARM based." This could give Microsoft one platform for ARM-based mobile devices, aiding its competition against Android and iOS on mobile.
Rubin also suggested that Microsoft might be preparing to release a native, touch-based version of Office at the May 20 event, and that it might be similar to the Office recently released for Apple's iPad. Current versions of Office for Windows 8 and RT tablets are intended for use with a mouse and keyboard.