Redmond has been offering its own tablets under a Microsoft Surface brand for several months now.
The first tablet launched by Microsoft was the (ARM-powered) Surface RT followed by the (x86) Surface Pro at a later date. Neither tablet has sold particularly well, or as many units as Microsoft would've liked.
Interestingly, Redmond recently made some changes to its Windows 8 hardware certification guidelines that point to the possibility of a new device headed to market.
Unsurpsingly, Microsoft made the changes without much fanfare. Essentially, the changes relax the hardware certification rules - allowing devices with screen resolutions of 1024 x 768 and a 32-bit color depth. However, Microsoft did warn its developer partners that its intention wasn't to allow the design of hardware with low resolution displays.
"This doesn't imply we're encouraging partners to regularly use a lower screen resolution," a Microsoft rep explained. "In fact, we see customers embracing the higher resolution screens that make a great Windows experience. We understand that partners exploring designs for certain markets could find greater design flexibility helpful."
The prevailing theory? The change was made to clear the way for a rumored product known as Windows Reader. The lower screen resolution will allow support for smaller screen sizes and the possibility of tablets to compete in size with the iPad mini.
As expected, products that do take advantage of the lower resolution will not be able to offer the Windows 8 snap feature allowing applications to be viewed side-by-side. Microsoft said that the snap feature would be disabled smaller screen devices to "avoid potential customer disappointment."
Basically, the reduced resolution requirements will allow Microsoft partners to create devices that match the resolution of the iPad mini and its 7.9-inch screen. The smallest Apple tablet has a screen resolution of 1024 x 768. Some expect Apple to increase the resolution for the iPad mini this year, but other analysts believe Cupertino will be unable to source high-resolution screens of that size by the end of 2013.