"I think that they'd go both ways," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, of the ARM-Windows RT and/or Intel-Windows 8 decision. He based his reasoning on a bet that Microsoft would continue to promote Surface, even in a more petite form factor, as able to not only consume digital content, but also create content using tools like Office or any of the thousands of legacy applications designed for Windows 7 that also run on Windows 8.
"Drop a Windows 8 Pro tablet, even a smaller one, into a dock and you have a full-sized PC," Gottheil said.
Microsoft has marketed the Surface Pro, which starts at $899, as a content creation device and a notebook replacement, when equipped with the company's optional keyboard-slash-covers.
No, not for 7-in. tablets, countered Sameer Singh of Tech-Thoughts.
"I think it will be ARM. While Atom provides legacy support, I don't think the additional cost fits with the rationale of moving to 7-inch tablets [and their] lower price points," said Singh in an email reply to questions.
And Windows 8's support for traditional Windows desktop software is a questionable selling point on a smaller tablet, Singh added. "Windows 8 makes very little sense on 7-in. tablets as legacy applications proved difficult enough to use on a 10-in. touchscreen," he said.
Nor would Office be much help on compact screens, Singh said, although both he and Gottheil acknowledged a minor segment of the purchasing pool might be interested in the suite. "At that point, Microsoft will be stuck marketing 7-in. Windows RT tablets to enterprise customers, and that's a tough sell," Singh said. "Office doesn't seem to be a huge draw in the consumer segment."
Microsoft is so bullish on Office's partnership with its current Surface tablets that it has reportedly scheduled the suite for release on Apple's iOS and Google's Android for October 2014, 18 months from now and much later than many expected.
Bob O'Donnell, an IDC vice president, has also downplayed the idea of Office on smaller screens. In an interview Wednesday, he said his view had not changed since January, when he pointed out the rapid expansion of 7-in. tablet sales, arguing that they were unsuitable for Office, and said as a result Microsoft had a narrowing timetable to promote the suite on tablets.
In October 2013, however, Microsoft will allegedly ship updates to Office RT, the version bundled with Windows RT devices, to make them work better in an all-touch environment.
Last month, when the Windows 8/RT screen resolution rule was relaxed, experts suggested that Microsoft might price a 7-in. Surface tablet anywhere between $199 and $399, the wide range indicative of their uncertainty about the company's strategy and aggressiveness.
Today, Singh picked $299 as the likeliest price for a Windows RT-based 7-in. Surface, the higher-than-Android-price reflecting the embedded cost of the operating system's license.
"No matter how far Microsoft drops the licensing cost for Windows RT, the overall cost structure, and hence prices (~$299), will still remain considerably higher than those for Android tablets (probably moving towards ~$150 this year, excluding white-label products)," he said.
There has been talk that Microsoft has cut the prices it charges OEMs for some licenses, including Windows 8 and Office 2013, but Windows RT has not been mentioned in those reports.
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 e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. See more articles by Gregg Keizer.
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