Windows device users may soon find out that an inch makes a huge difference.
This morning the Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft is working on a 7-inch Surface tablet, amid unanticipated interest in an array of device sizes that fall between the traditional smart phone and the initial tablets. At the same time, Microsoft is relaxing requirements on OEMs that build hardware for both Windows Phone and Windows 8, giving them the freedom to meet the demand for different size devices.
However, it’s becoming clear that Microsoft’s revamped operating system strategy divides squarely between 6 and 7 inches. Smartphone OEMs will be able to build 6-inch Windows Phones at the same time that tablet OEMs will-be allowed to make 7-inch Windows 8 machines.
The problem is that while Windows Phone and Windows 8 share a kernel and other components, they are not the same platform.
That means a 6-inch device will have the nice vertical orientation built into Windows Phone while the 7-inch tablet will display the crappy vertical orientation available with Windows 8. The 6-inch device will have a phone, the 7-inch one won’t. The 7-inch device will run full versions of Office, the 6-inch one will get the much more limited mobile version of Office.
Worse, the devices will have totally separate app stores. That means the apps available to a 6-inch Windows Phone user will be totally different than those available to the Windows 8 tablet.
Microsoft took a step in the right direction by sharing a kernel across its smartphone and desktop operating systems, and by making the UIs similar, but it didn’t go far enough fast enough to meet rising demand for "in between" size devices.
Contrast this with Apple's ecosystem. iPads and iPhones share an app model and App Store. While developers need to make some changes to adapt iPhone apps to the larger iPad, tablet users can use iPhone apps. They don’t always look pretty, but at least they’re available.
There’s a chance that Microsoft is working on the problem. A report from the often-wrong-but-sometimes-right DigiTimes said that Windows Blue will further integrate Windows Phone and Windows 8 to eliminate some of these problems, but long-time Microsoft watcher Paul Thurrott is filing this one in the wishful thinking category.
Even if Microsoft does plan to do further integration, by the time that work is done, the rest of the Android and iOS market will have shot even further ahead. Microsoft desperately needs its smartphone and tablet market share to improve, given that PC sales have fallen off a cliff.