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On the Surface, a Mini Mystery

Reports speculate that the small tablet wasn't sufficiently differentiated from the competition.

Is it a mystery wrapped in an enigma, or just a case of not-yet-ready-for-primetime? A victim of foul play, or a case of caution winning the day?

A few weeks ago, Microsoft sent out a press invite for "a small gathering" for news from the Surface team. It wasn't a stretch to presume Microsoft was planning to roll out a Surface "mini" to compete with the slew of 8-inch tablets based on Android, Windows 8.1 and of course the iPad Mini.

The lack of a Surface in that form factor represents a key gap in Microsoft's effort to make Windows a mainstream tablet platform. Analysts say small tablets account for half of all tablets sold. As we now know, there was no Surface "mini." Instead, Microsoft took the wraps off the Surface Pro 3. For IT pros and everyday workers who use both a tablet and PC, Microsoft may have broken new ground with the new Surface Pro because it promises to combine the two.

Mobile industry analyst Jack Gold said in a research note yesterday that Microsoft made the right move in putting the mini it reportedly had in the queue on hold. "Microsoft finally seems to understand it cannot go head to head with Apple's iPad, and must offer a superior business device leveraging its installed base of infrastructure and applications, in particular the full Office suite," he wrote.

So, was Microsoft's invitation a ruse? The prevailing thinking is it wasn't. It appears when the invites went out two weeks ago, Microsoft was planning a mini but Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella decided the device wasn't unique enough from other small tablets, according to a Bloomberg report. Microsoft would not comment, but according to Bloomberg, the company had a mini planned that was powered by an ARM-based Qualcomm processor running the Windows 8 RT office.

Another possible reason is that Microsoft realized that a mini without the Gemini touch-enhanced Office apps in development wouldn't make sense, noted All About Microsoft's Mary Jo Foley. Microsoft doesn't appear to have abandoned a mini and it would be a lost opportunity if they can't get one into the market before the holiday season this year. The only question is will it be Windows RT-based, Windows 8.1-based (like in the Windows Surface Pro) or both?

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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