Windows 8 Adding a New Look to Tablet Screens

Microsoft on Wednesday talked about its screen-design considerations in Windows 8.

Some future Windows 8 tablet devices will have screen displays nearing Apple iPad quality, or at least they will have comparable screen specs. Windows 8 is currently available at the consumer preview beta stage. However, when Windows 8 tablet products are released, many will have "pixel densities of at least 135 DPI -- much higher than many of us are used to," according to David Washington, a senior program manager on Microsoft's user experience team, in a blog post.

Pixel density is one measure of the quality of a display and describes how many pixels occupy a specific screen area, as measured in dots per inch (DPI) or pixels per inch. Washington added that there also will be "HD tablets" running Windows 8 with pixel densities of about 190 DPI and "quad-XGA tablets" with pixel densities of about 253 DPI.

In contrast, Apple's latest 4G iPad, which had its debut this month, has a "Retina" display with a pixel density of 264 PPI. That's twice the iPad 2's XGA display, which has a pixel density of 132 PPI.

Windows 8 is designed to support three pixel density scale factors. At 100 percent pixel density, there is no scaling. HD tablets, in contrast, have displays that are capable of 140 percent pixel density scalability. Windows 8 quad-XGA tablets will be capable 180 percent pixel density scalability.

As for Apple, its latest iPad has a 200 percent pixel density scale factor. Apple has total control over its hardware specs. It only has to support this one scale factor, according Washington.

"Because [Apple] iOS and developers only need to support the predefined resolutions, they only need to design for this one additional scaling factor," Washington stated.

Microsoft also redesigned screen resolution standards for Windows 8. The aim was to make coding easier for developers, according to Washington. While the old standard for screen resolutions was designing for an 800 x 600 pixels size, Microsoft selected a minimum screen resolution for Windows 8 at 1024 x 768 pixels. Washington argued that Web designers already are accustomed to building Web sites at this 1024 x 768 pixels size. Moreover, applications running in virtual machines can be "easily" supported at that screen resolution or lower, he contended.

However, one big reason why Microsoft threw out the old 800 x 600 pixels standard in building Windows 8 is that it just doesn't display as much content when used with Metro-style apps. The optimal minimum screen resolution that supports all of Windows 8's Metro features is 1366 x 768 pixels, Washington said. That's the same screen resolution seen with the Samsung Series 7 tablet, which was shown off at Microsoft's Build conference in September. It's at that resolution that the screen will accommodate Microsoft's Metro user interface "snap" feature, which allows a second application to be displayed on the same screen.

With Microsoft's Metro UI in Windows 8, applications run in full-screen mode. Two Metro-style applications can't occupy a single screen except by using the snap feature. Washington noted that it may seem "counter-intuitive" that the Windows 8 Metro UI design doesn't let users resize application windows, but Microsoft felt that developers weren't optimally developing their apps to address such resizing anyway.

"But as we look across many apps and the ever expanding screen sizes available to us all, it has become clear that developers are no longer optimizing for the diversity of screens available," Washington explained in the blog.

Windows 8 also has a second UI for so-called "desktop-style" apps, which provides a more traditional Windows 7-like experience. Apparently, desktop apps running on Windows 8 won't have all of these window-sizing restrictions, but Microsoft considers them as being akin to legacy solutions and is concentrating on selling Metro-style apps through its new Windows Store.

Microsoft may not be keeping pace with the current market leaders as represented by Android and Apple iOS in the tablet mobile device space, but it is touting the notion that it will be fairly easy to repurpose HTML5 applications built for other platforms to run on the new Windows Runtime in Windows 8. For instance, this Microsoft case study describes how to take an Apple application and redesign it to work with the capabilities in Windows 8. An increased number of developers working on the Windows Runtime side may help Microsoft catch up in the tablet market.

Windows 8, when released, is expected to run on devices of various sizes, on both x86 and ARM machines. The ARM-based devices, in particular, are expected to expand the form-factor choices available to users.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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