Surface mini: A few more details about the upcoming device

The Surface mini is a device that has been rumored for well over a year. As the name implies, it will be a smaller iteration of Microsoft's Surface tablets, though specifics have remained a bit of a mystery, as several launch dates of when it might be released have come and gone. But, as with any good product, the details do eventually start to make their way out from the confines of Redmond, and we have a few more tidbits about the device that give us a better indication of what to expect when the device does arrive. 

For starters, we already know that the device will be in the 7- to 8-inch class, but that's really about it in terms of size. You can expect Microsoft will continue with the same Surface design language as the other devices with similar materials and build quality.

Marketing

The 8-inch tablet market is generally considered to be for "consumption-class" devices. With a smaller screen, it's not ideal for the Office suite, as the tinier display confines usability for power users. Sure, with Windows 8.1 on many of the devices, getting work done is feasible but not as desirable as on a proper laptop or a larger Surface tablet. So with the Surface mini, Microsoft will be positioning the device as a note-taking device.

Why note taking? Microsoft likes to market products at what they are designed to be used for, and for the Surface mini, it will be all about taking notes. That's not really a surprise; Microsoft wants the Surface brand to represent functionality and entertainment across the gamut, and with Surface 2 coming with Office out of the box, they want the Surface mini to be associated with note-taking. 

Pen Input

The Surface mini will support pen input – a proper pen, too, not an old-fashioned stylus. This means it should include support Wacom digitizer (or something comparable), as proper pen support needs this additional functionality. The pen support is obvious for a note-taking device and will help to make the Surface mini competitive in the market, as the 8-inch class of devices is filled with quality products. Beyond the branding, the Surface mini will need to compete on all hardware and software levels if Microsoft hopes to move any units, hence the pen input support.

Supply Chain

There has been a lot of speculation that the Surface mini was supposed to launch in the fall with the Surface 2 line of products. Admittedly, I had heard this information as well and now understand the source of the supply chain information, but as it pertains to the Surface mini, know that it was a business decision to not launch the tablet in the fall. 

The basis of the information of the issues with supply chain revolve around the fact that the Surface 2 was out of stock for quite awhile on Microsoft's own site and at some of their retailers as well. The connection seems logical – Microsoft can't make Surface 2 fast enough, so surely there is an issue with mini as well – but that's not what I'm hearing. 

Apps

Microsoft has a fantastic note-taking app in OneNote, and with the Surface mini, there might be more to the story. Now, the details here are a bit light, but we know that Microsoft is working the make the mini the "best note-taking tablet" on the market, and this could include new apps or modifications to existing apps to make them work better on the mini and with the pen. 

Microsoft is constantly updating is suit of applications on Windows and the improvements here will focus around using them on a smaller screen. While there are devices that are currently in this class of device, and we know that the apps work in the 8-inch tablet space, look for further optimization in the near future.

Release

The big question everyone wants to know is when they can get their hands on the device. While we wish we had some hard data here, we can give a bit more color to this subject. We are hearing several things, one is that the tablet is not dead. Not sure where this came from, but the Surface mini is alive and will make its way to the market in 2014. 

We have also heard from a couple of sources that it could arrive soon, as in the Spring, and this aligns to what Mary Jo Foley had heard as well. Specifically, we have heard that the mini is actually done, so it's really up to Microsoft to pull the retail switch to release the device. Knowing that, it could really come at any time, as soon as Microsoft wants to make the announcement.

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Anthony Tosie said,

And that's fine. But I would seriously doubt if you fit in with what the majority of users need from a small-screen tablet. The desktop is a terrible interface for a tablet, let alone one with a smaller screen. That was already proven with the terrible experience of Windows 7 tablets, then again with Office on average-sized tablets.

Speak for yourself.

We deployed thousands of Windows 7 TabletPC and the users loved them.

(People forget that a few metric changes in the UI and it became very touch/pen friendly. Thankfully we made these changes for the users, as it is sad to see 'tech' minded people try to use the device without the changes and then complain how 'hard' it is for them.)

Mobius Enigma said,

Speak for yourself.

We deployed thousands of Windows 7 TabletPC and the users loved them.

(People forget that a few metric changes in the UI and it became very touch/pen friendly. Thankfully we made these changes for the users, as it is sad to see 'tech' minded people try to use the device without the changes and then complain how 'hard' it is for them.)


I do speak for myself. I also speak for the facts of the colossal bombing of any and every Windows 7 tablet commercially released as well as every review of those tablets from reputable outlets.

Anthony Tosie said,

I do speak for myself. I also speak for the facts of the colossal bombing of any and every Windows 7 tablet commercially released as well as every review of those tablets from reputable outlets.

Wow, so I can safely assume you never used a Windows 7 TabletPC, nor have you read any reviews of a Windows 7 TabletPC.

Do yourself a favor, hit up a search: Windows 7 TabletPC

If you want, I can post about 30 positive reviews from just the first couple of results pages. They are even from several 'reputable' outlets, that carry more weight that even Neowin. ;)

TabletPCs were considered to be successful in their time and got decent reviews even back when they were running on WinXP that wasn't as tailored to the touch and stylus as Windows 7.

With Windows 7, there were a few touch screen devices, and one HP Slate that sold out, but HP got money from Google to stop producing it. (Use your journalism and a couple of calls to confirm this.) Even as crappy as it was and 'forced' to be released by Microsoft because of the CES unveiling, it was still well received and got ok reviews, and it wasn't a full TabletPC.

Enterprise shipped tens of millions of TabletPCs, and they worked well in several industries, and yes WERE WELL RECEIVED by users.

PS The metrics and options I am talking about that are baked into Windows 7, allow the desktop to function like iOS or Android if you know the settings. It really doesn't take a genius to turn on one click to open, enlarge title bars/borders, item checkboxes, and a few policy settings.

I don't mind that you disagree with me, but if you never worked with these devices, and are only going by a few reviews, and yet you know I have worked with these devices, why do you assume you understand them better than I? I wouldn't be as bold to make such an assumption.

You started out with an incorrect assumption (an assumption by your own admission) and then get mad at me for an "assumption" that is actually an opinion? OK then.

You're taking this way too personally. I disagreed with you. I didn't insult you in any way.

Anthony Tosie said,

And that's fine. But I would seriously doubt if you fit in with what the majority of users need from a small-screen tablet. The desktop is a terrible interface for a tablet, let alone one with a smaller screen. That was already proven with the terrible experience of Windows 7 tablets, then again with Office on average-sized tablets.

To each his own.... I fell in love with the Tablet concept when I bought a Toshiba 3505, in 2002, running.... XP Tablet. Not to mention using WM on a Motorola MPX 200 with a 2.2" screen.

I am will be very interesting on an 8inch Surface mini. The only thing I am worrying about is the screen resolution. I hope the learn from the first Surface mistake and introduce a high-resolution, high-ppi screen.

I totally agree using that resolution on a 8" device for the traditional Windows desktop is going to be borderline unusable but if we consider Surface and Surface mini as consumer oriented devices that (in the case of the mini, may) run on Windows RT and that the eventual end-game is to remove the desktop (once Office runs as modern apps like on iPad) then 1080 resolution will work great on metro apps and video playback.

spc1972 said,
I totally agree using that resolution on a 8" device for the traditional Windows desktop is going to be borderline unusable but if we consider Surface and Surface mini as consumer oriented devices that (in the case of the mini, may) run on Windows RT and that the eventual end-game is to remove the desktop (once Office runs as modern apps like on iPad) then 1080 resolution will work great on metro apps and video playback.

What about Outlook?....

Pen input would also benefit review processes (i.e. track changes/comments) for Office documents; I'd see that as a major use-case for a 8" Surface.

I'll buy this day one. I use my Gen 1 Surface pro hours a day and an 8 inch version would fit right in to my needs.

I have no interest in using a pen so this device sounds pointless to me. Hopefully there are other aspects about it that are worth highlighting.

Avatar Roku said,
I have no interest in using a pen so this device sounds pointless to me. Hopefully there are other aspects about it that are worth highlighting.

you can just not use the pen?

Oh man I'm totally keen on this. 8" Surface, Ultrabook (or larger Surface, maybe 13") and my desktop.. Chuck in a 930, and I'll have my perfect setup this year.

But which operating system will it have? The most important question was missing. Windows RT doesn't support pen input as far as we know and an x86 architecture might not be as efficient.

I would imagine it will have RT, much much better battery life and once office modern is released later this year and wp and rt merged will be an excellent device.

korupt_one said,
much much better battery life

Not really tbh. The latest Bay Trail tablets are as good as their Surface counterparts in video.

Where x86 falls over, is in the "legacy" or "classic" apps, which aren't, and never have been, designed for power efficiency (wheras Metro apps by nature, suspend in the background)

tiadimundo said,
Windows RT doesn't support pen input as far as we know .

Here's hoping they've ported the Wacom driver over to Windows RT.

It will get there. With all the latest stuff on BUILD Im pretty sure there will be more and more 'cross-over' coming.

On topic: whatever OS on the Mini, I really hope MS can keep the price in check.
If it's $300 or less, it will sell like hotcakes.
But like with the Pro, the addition of a Wacom layer might not help the price ;-)

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