When Microsoft announced the Surface they called it a “New Family of PCs for Windows” and I think the family will have a new member in the near term horizon. It was just about 75 days ago that we learned that Microsoft and Barnes & Noble had entered a strategic alliance in the e-book market. There are still terms to work out here but it’s impossible to not think about Microsoft finally aligning its assets, as they’re doing with Skype integration. With the announcement of the Surface it seems like B&N and Microsoft can re-innovate on the eBook market in a way we haven’t seen yet. See, a 7” tablet is a great size for reading and for media consumption. It’s small, always available and feels like a book all around. The big problem with the tablets on the market is that they rely on traditional backlit displays and those are ok for reading but far from perfect. So in comes the Nook and Kindle eReaders which are great for reading but that’s a one trick pony. Let’s go full circle and bring back the Surface.
The Surface will come with a Touch Cover. A 3mm capacitive keyboard that doubles as a cover. Let’s evolve that a drop. What if that Touch Cover had eInk on it so it could be a keyboard or it could be an eBook? Granted, you lose a bit of the tactile touch of a raised keyboard but you gain an eReader and since you already have your tablet on you, may as well have a Swiss Army Knife tablet – one that can have a 7” display, a 7” capacitive keyboard and at the press of the button (well an app) that becomes a 7” eReader screen.
Why not do this on a 10.6” Touch Cover? eInk screens are simply too expensive at that size. Notice the Kindle DX’s $379 price tag for a 9.7” display. And quite frankly, if you’ve ever used a 6” Kindle or Nook you’ve probably thought that was a perfectly acceptable size. The other advantage is that the price point of the tablet comes down because it’s a smaller color screen as well and you don’t need to duplicate assets (like battery, processor, antennas, etc).
So there you are with a 7” WinRT tablet that’s a full fledged eReader without the limitations of the current choices on the market. Seems like a likely solution for Microsoft to hit a new price point, expand their market and bring Barnes and Noble into the fold.