Can Windows 8 thrive on small tablets? Acer thinks so, debuts 8.1-inch Iconia W3

Folks looking for a Windows 8(s msft) companion can find it in Acer’s Iconia W3, an 8.1-inch tablet running Microsoft’s operating system. The Iconia W3, spotted on Acer’s Finland site by SlashGear, doesn’t appear to have a confirmed price tag or availability just yet.

Iconia W3 landscapeWhile Microsoft Windows 8 tablets have generally been sized at 10.1-inches or larger, the company is rumored to be working on a smaller Surface tablet. That would mean it relaxed the hardware requirements an allow for a device such as the W3, which will offer an optional keyboard to help with text input. Will the market support these smaller slates?

I’m not sold on the full Windows 8 Pro experience on such a small device. Yes, the formerly-known-as-Metro touch interface should be fine — quite good, in fact — on the Iconia W3; after all, the same design is great on smaller screens using Windows Phone 8. The bigger challenge is the Windows desktop and legacy app support, which is one of the three major points Acer calls attention to: “The Iconia W3 comes with Microsoft Office so you can edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint docs on the go,” for example.

With the 1280 x 768 resolution, running Office and other apps designed for Windows will present a challenge to most. The smaller screen and relatively lower resolution means smaller touch points, for starters. For maximum productivity in the desktop environment, a mouse will be the better option because the Windows 8 Desktop environment is similar to the Windows desktops of yesterday. Simply put, while Metro has evolved for touch and smaller screens, the Windows desktop hasn’t.

windows-7-samsung-umpcI could be wrong about this, but I do have a few years of experience that tells me it’s not likely. I used 7-inch touchscreen tablets running Windows XP and 7 on several UMPCs, often as a full-time computing device.

It took a ton of patience to make the systems work because apps weren’t designed to fit and run on them. These were the precursors to netbooks, and to a degree that’s what the Iconia W3 reminds me of: A cross between a modern UMPC and a netbook. Like those devices, Acer is using an Intel(s intc) Atom to power the W3.

I’m sure to hear contrary opinions on this, but what would make the W3 more appealing would be for the tablet to run only the Metro interface and apps. (Ironically, none of the W3 product images even show the desktop, which I think is telling.)¬†Of course, Microsoft doesn’t offer a Windows 8 license with just that part of the platform. I wish it did and did so at a reduced price since one would give up access to legacy Windows apps. In that case, and at the right price, I’d be far more interested in the W3.

Sure, one could buy the device and simply ignore the desktop completely. But you’re paying for it in the product price, which includes the cost of a Windows 8 Pro license. If Microsoft wants to allow partners to make small tablets, a better strategy would be to go Metro only at a lower license cost and truly embrace the touchscreen tablet market.