Future of tablets is >13 inches

At <2 pounds weight

Microsoft will hold an event on May 20 to debut the mini version of the Surface. Rumor has it that in addition to the Surface mini, Microsoft will reveal a new SKU. CNET reports that SKU to be Intel-based.

A true Windows experience on a Surface 2 form factor would be ideal for many who need the OS. However, I echo Paul Thurrot in hoping that the screen size of this new SKU is 13-inch and upwards. In fact, I think the entire tablet industry should go in this direction.

Usage for tablets can be divided into two categories: one-handed and two-handed.

Devices meant to be used with two hands are often landscape

Phones, phablets and “mini” tablets fall under the former. Essentially, anything under 8-inches is primarily held with one hand. I believe the dominant size of this category will be 5- to 6-inch smartphones. The value of a Nexus 7 tablet is questionable when you already carry around a Galaxy Note 3 phone. We will see this occur too in the Apple ecosystem when the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 is launched.

The iPad Air, Surface and Nexus 10 fall squarely in the latter category — devices that are meant mainly for two-handed use. I believe the biggest reasons why Apple, Microsoft and Google chose the 10- to 11-inch screen size is because of weight. With previous technology limits, bigger tablets would be too heavy; and therein lies the key to this category.

Tablets meant to be held with two hands should have as large of a screen size as possible while weighing 2 pounds or less.

With two hands, there is such a thing as “light enough.” Once that threshold is passed, the better trade-off is to maximize screen size. A 13-inch screen is far better for productivity and media consumption than a 10-inch screen. Multitasking with side-by-side running apps is a quantum leap better on a 13-inch screen.

If manufacturers can find a way to keep weight down, a 2-pound 15-inch iPad Air will easily outsell a 1-pound 9.7-inch iPad Air. But a 3-pound Yoga Pro 2 is just too heavy as a tablet.

Larger screen sizes at reduced weight is the next battleground for tablets and hybrid PCs. Apple is the first to recognize this with the iPad Air, and I hope they develop the other side of the equation and launch a 13-inch version of it. Microsoft will be wise to follow, or even beat Apple to it.

Update (May 13, 2014): 9to5Mac is now reporting that Apple plans to add split-screen multitasking in iOS 8, a la Windows. Hmmm! That feature would sure work better on a 13-inch screen.

Update (May 21, 2014): Boom! Microsoft announces a thin 12-inch Surface Pro 8 weighing 1.8 pounds. Its 3:2 screen ratio actually gives it more screen real estate than the traditional 13-inch Ultrabook. More here on the cornerplay.