The targeted device sizes, whether 11.6-in. or 10.8-in., suggest that Microsoft is hoping to spark sales at the smaller end of the form factor spectrum, such as tablets bundled with keyboards -- like the company's own Surface Pro -- or ultralight touch-enabled laptops similar to Apple's 11.6-in. MacBook Air, a flash RAM-based notebook sans touch that starts at $999.
Taiwanese PC maker Asus yesterday acknowledged that Windows 8 has not helped overall PC sales, but that touch screen notebooks have been selling faster. Last year, Asus introduced the Taichi, an unusual laptop that features dual 11.6-in. touch-enabled displays. The Taichi retails for $1,299 and up.
Microsoft and its OEMs have been hit from several sides, including weak economies -- especially in Europe -- and dollars being diverted to tablets, most notably Apple's iPads. Now, the Windows industry also faces ultra-cheap Chromebooks, laptops powered by Google's browser-based Chrome OS, which have hit the price point of "netbooks," the inexpensive Windows hardware that years ago pushed companies like Asus and Acer into the top OEM ranks.
The bestselling notebook on Amazon.com, for example, has long been Samsung's 11.6-in. Chromebook, which goes for $249.
"It's notable that Microsoft has been able to sustain its OEM prices this long," said Krans. "But this is a reflection of the state of the computer market, which has been difficult for both OEMs and Microsoft. They have to get out in front of this shift."
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.
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