Surface mini: Pulled from keynote, days before launch - but it's not dead, yet

When the Surface mini was not announced at the Surface keynote, it was quite the shock for many avid Microsoft fans. The device, which has been rumored for well over a year, and almost completely detailed in an endless series of leaks, was expected by almost everyone to be announced - but alas, here we are, with no mini to purchase.

So what happened? Well, it was canceled at the last minute and we have been able to find out a few more tidbits about the final hours leading up to the launch event for those who are trying to understand what exactly happened - and just what the future holds for the mini-tablet.

Before we go through the current events, we need to take a step back to understand the processes that took place up until the device was supposed to be launched. The mini first made its presence known with leaks of what was believed to be an Xbox companion device or something similar. While that 'Xbox Surface' never materialized, likely because the positioning never truly made sense when you observe how Microsoft has used the Xbox brand and its current tablet marketing efforts, the device itself was, and is, real - but it has evolved from its origins as a gaming-focused tablet.

More concrete evidence started to turn up last year around the time of the launch of the Surface 2, with well-placed sources saying that they had seen the device on Microsoft's campus, and confirming that it was not just a piece of vaporware. In fact, as we previously reported, it was scheduled to be released around that time as well, but a 'business decision' was made to hold off on the device and push the launch out until this Spring.

As we approached the launch of this event, the details started coming out and the mini picture was Microsoft now has to store 15-20,000 minis that were already produced. being assembled through various leaks across the web, both here at Neowin and via other reputable news outlets. When you have several, completely independent groups getting information, it becomes clear that something is happening as the Microsoft beehive aligns the bits and pieces to push the product into the retail sector.

Days go by and the channels start lighting up with more information, some of which we passed along, and other bits that we sat on for some time, as it can be a bit confusing as information trickles down the pipeline. I want to be clear, to make it known that the Surface mini information had been floating around for some time. But in an effort to try and understand the true picture, we can't simply report on content as soon as we get it; rather, we want to do our best to isolate the signal from the noise. 

We do this, in part, by finding multiple sources of content and then seeing where the overlaps occur; when we can find the overlaps, we can begin to assemble a credible picture of what's actually happening, and then we can take it to the news front page to report it to you. 

So what happened? Here is what we have learned. The report earlier that it was an executive decision is accurate; we were told it was a "management directive" to not launch the device. More so, the device was already in production, with thousands - 15,000-20,000 of them - having already been made, and which now are sitting somewhere, locked up, waiting to see the light of day.

Now that quantity may sound like a lot, but in terms of mass produced consumer goods, it's likely a first-batch run to make sure the assembly procedures are scoped and specced properly.  But the device is real, and some units have come off of the assembly line, but alas, the project has been put on hold.

We have heard a few reasons as to why it was put on hold, but everything we have heard points to this being an eleventh hour decision, with our source saying it was made as late two days before the keynote. But why? Well, the lack of differentiating features and the fear it may not sell well is one suggestion, and with Microsoft keeping sales figures of its devices close to its chest, we really don't know how well Windows RT-based devices actually sell.

The other reason we have heard - and this one comes from a source who has provided credible information in the past - is that Microsoft is now waiting for the touch-based version of Office to arrive, which should be this fall, according to the last bits we heard about Gemini.

Seeing how Microsoft has treated the Surface mini, anything is possible now as it could be a full year past the initial launch window before the device finally makes its début. Will they kill it off for good? I don't think so, but do they want to make sure it has it's own unique value proposition that is different from the Pro 3? That seems more plausible.

When we first started talking about the mini, we reported that it was going to be a note taking tablet with 'custom apps'. What the Surface Pro 3 embodies are some of those design principles, with OneNote getting deep-rooted integration, and seeing Photoshop CC with pen support on the device.

But to get the most out of the mini, it needs a touch-based version of the Office because unlike the Pro 3, the screen is significantly smaller and precision input on apps, especially with big fat fingers, becomes far more critical. The Mini will launch when Gemini is ready With only OneNote now having a truly touch-friendly UI, the mini would have launched with an older version of Office, a modern version of OneNote, and would have provided an experience that is less than ideal and not up to Elop's or Nadella's standards, leading to the decision to delay the launch.

So what does Microsoft want to do? It wants to give the mini a touch version of Office out of the box as one of its selling points so that users don't feel locked into only using OneNote. On the Pro 3, it's quite easy to use Office thanks to the significantly larger display and as such, there was never any real reason to hold back that device. 

While we don't love that management tossed a bucket of cold water on to the mini release, it is all that makes sense from how quickly the rumors ramped up and then all of a sudden died on the keynote chopping block. We know this won't be the last we hear about the mini but until Microsoft tells us one day what actually happened (don't hold your breath), this may be the best we can get, for now.

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sorry, but pics or it didn't happen.....

Everybody went in a frenzey about a Internet rumour, and now it starts all over.
Show me ACTUAL EVIDENCE of all this, and I'll start believeing.

In the meantime, if you want a 8" device, buy one from the OEM's ;-)

All the OEM devices has serious compromises, our hope were for a surface pro just shruken to 8 inches with 8 hrs battery. That is literally all I need and no oem device currently provides that.

I hope that by the time it is launched, and if the rumours of that screen res are true, they increase it... Because it's a sub par screen res today, let alone in the future

I think another reason why they pulled it, is the fact that they're sending a message that the new Surface Pro 3 is "the device" that you will ever need to use for both productivity and entertainment. Then suddenly, you pull out a mini; then there goes the message that you are trying to drive through out the window.

Not really, nobody could ever argue (seriously) that an 8" tablet could be a device for productivity (well beyond note taking anyway). The mini would be clearly marketed as a consumption device.

An 8 inch tablet is a completely different beast than Surface Pro 3, they are not even remotely competing with each other. The Surface line of Tablets REALLY needs an 8 inch version.

Makes me wonder if they're also waiting on "Windows 8.1. Update 2" ... just like Update 1 provided the "feature" that allowed much more compact windows installs on small devices (especially ARM devices), perhaps Update 2 will allow an install "sans desktop" for something like a Surface Mini, where the desktop would be utterly useless anyway.

Microsoft now has to store 15-20,000 minis that were already produced.

Anybody got their number? I'd like to offer to "store" a few for them :)

If it doesn't release very quick, it will have to be buried for good. The hardware they chose is already close to its "marketing" end of life and would not be able to survive the comparison with its competitors.

This whole things is saddening. At least, Microsoft seems to have a fairly clear direction...

yes - the shipping is definately too far away. i dont understand how companies dont understand to ship "immediately" after the show. this business is so much about buzz and emotions, all that cools off quickly and a couple weeks later the product is perceived way more rational.

this is especially important for a product like the surface. rational thinking might make you decline to buy the product, even if its super great, you just dont get urself buying it. if you bought it, you would maybe notice how great it is.

"new" products, not broadly used yet, you have to push to the consumer. use every chance you got! late shipping is just killing it!

TheCyberKnight said,
If it doesn't release very quick, it will have to be buried for good. The hardware they chose is already close to its "marketing" end of life and would not be able to survive the comparison with its competitors.

That's what I thought too. It's rumored that surface mini has a snapdragon 800 processor and now we hear MS has 15000-20000 of them already produced.

By the time they release it to the market, there'll be android tablets with snapdragon 805 chips around.

They'll have to either upgrade them, write them off, or sell them at a lower price.

[quote=eddman said,]

By the time they release it to the market, there'll be android tablets with snapdragon 805 chips around.

quote]

On identical hardware Windows runs much, much faster than Android (which is Java based and will always be sloooooow) so I wouldn't worry too much about that. Even with a slower Snapdragon Windows will run rings around such old-fashioned software.

call me wrong but there was one image in the keynote where i believe to have seen 2 differently sized surfaces. the one on the right was the pro3 and the one on the left appeared to have a smaller screen.

did you see that too? maybe they could not clean all marketing stuff just yet?

this is the image i mean: http://de.tinypic.com/r/xr8e8/8

yeh thats possible - i just find it weird to show the last year surface next to the pro3 without mention it at all. why even showing the picture?

im probably wrong but it just looks as if that product should have announed too, hence the marketing material, but died in the last minutes.

typu said,
call me wrong but there was one image in the keynote where i believe to have seen 2 differently sized surfaces. the one on the right was the pro3 and the one on the left appeared to have a smaller screen.

did you see that too? maybe they could not clean all marketing stuff just yet?

this is the image i mean: http://de.tinypic.com/r/xr8e8/8

So you didn't get that they wanted to compare against the surface pro 2 even though they constantly compared the two in terms is size, thickness, weight, resolution, battery life? Wow just wow.

Done waiting, Love my Surface pro but I really need an 8 inch win8 device and am not going to keep waiting on vaporware. They could have shown the thing now, stated it is still aw rok in progress and at least given us info on specs and price whihc I would have been ok with even if it did not launch till the fall.

Right now it does not exist, we have no real info on it and to continue to wait may just turn into a forever waiting game.

Some of us really wanted a smaller win 8 device to use as a reader, portable music player, smart glass device etc.

It is VERY convenient to have a powerful pc\tablet you can easily hold and even put in your pocket.

I'm so glad I went for the DV8P as soon as it was released. I pondered waiting for the Surface Mini. The DV8P is not perfect but it does the job decently enough.
I will still get Sruface mini with pen - but in the meantime my dell will do.

swanlee said,
Done waiting, Love my Surface pro but I really need an 8 inch win8 device and am not going to keep waiting on vaporware. They could have shown the thing now, stated it is still aw rok in progress and at least given us info on specs and price whihc I would have been ok with even if it did not launch till the fall.

Right now it does not exist, we have no real info on it and to continue to wait may just turn into a forever waiting game.

Some of us really wanted a smaller win 8 device to use as a reader, portable music player, smart glass device etc.

It is VERY convenient to have a powerful pc\tablet you can easily hold and even put in your pocket.

Yep, I was ready to pre-order Surface Mini today, now I'm buying a Dell Venue 8 that I don't really want that much.

dopydope said,
I'm so glad I went for the DV8P as soon as it was released. I pondered waiting for the Surface Mini. The DV8P is not perfect but it does the job decently enough.
I will still get Sruface mini with pen - but in the meantime my dell will do.

I agree, the DV8P is nice for me as well =). Sometimes I wish I went with the Lenovo one because it has gps I think (maybe the Toshiba one does). The only problem I had with it was 32 gigs wasnt enough for with all the garbage on it (but fixed problem) and occasionally my wifi goes out and i have to restart to fix it.

As, yes, they could have shown you the device and say it's not coming out until the Fall...they wouldn't have the features (Office) to make the splash that they want to.

swanlee said,
Done waiting, Love my Surface pro but I really need an 8 inch win8 device and am not going to keep waiting on vaporware. They could have shown the thing now, stated it is still aw rok in progress and at least given us info on specs and price whihc I would have been ok with even if it did not launch till the fall.

Right now it does not exist, we have no real info on it and to continue to wait may just turn into a forever waiting game.

Some of us really wanted a smaller win 8 device to use as a reader, portable music player, smart glass device etc.

It is VERY convenient to have a powerful pc\tablet you can easily hold and even put in your pocket.


Haha you make it sound like its buying a house or some other long term commitment. These devices don't last long (nit saying they fail. Just tech gets outdated) so basically you can get the next one. No one said or implied that there would be an 8" surface ready when YOU wanted it to be ready. But when one comes out others will follow (v2,v3) so its all good, fill that gap with a Dell venue pro and then when its time to replace have a look what's out there but leave the melodrama for the kids please.

But the current devices on the market are too much of a compromise. There's something about each of them that's just not good enough yet, the pen, battery life, weight, etc. MS cancelling the Mini also says that the Software isn't quite there yet either.

I'd like a 8" companion device and have been tempted by the DV8, but I'd rather wait til MS get it right.

TheShark said,
But the current devices on the market are too much of a compromise. There's something about each of them that's just not good enough yet, the pen, battery life, weight, etc. MS cancelling the Mini also says that the Software isn't quite there yet either.

I'd like a 8" companion device and have been tempted by the DV8, but I'd rather wait til MS get it right.

Me too, I think the rumour about wanting to wait until RT and WP merge fully is the best bet as that will make the smaller devices a true tablet only experience with no need for desktop. Then it will finally get to the point where it seems polished and simple and nice.

After the lack of surface mini I did a lot of research and all the 8 inch win8 tablets have serious compromises.

What I really want is a Surface Pro 2 shrunk to 8 inches with 8 hrs battery life. That's it.

The only thing close is the Lenovo Thinkpad 8 however at least it has a 1080P screen but it costs to much and only gets around 6hrs battery life

Right now the Acer Iconia W4 looks to be the best bet for me.

The Dell Venue pro 8 has really slow disc drive, wifi connection issues and only around 7hrs battery. Other Win 8 8 inch tablets have simialr issues.

Thank god for this new Microsoft.

In the past all was launched, not ready that's ok, release, not that great, release, no spark, release, no special features to catch media and public attention, release.

Thank you Satya Nadella, keep changing the beast for the better.

As a iPhone user I can say this, Apple isn't the best company on the planet when it comes to hardware and software features, but hey it's board meeting "So what do you think of this prototype?" "It sucks ugly and boring" "Ok back to drawing".
And that's how Microsoft if it want's to have the best devices should work, no shame in cancelling a release, shame is when you release anything despite being ugly, featureless when compared to the competition and just plain boring when it comes to the excitement ^Spark^. Anyone complaining about this decision just complains for complaining, a boring internet user with nothing better to do in his live.

Edited by Digitalfox, May 21 2014, 5:28pm :

Yeah I am with you on that. MS is fighting and loosing a lot of battles. Releasing products that are half baked just hurts their reputation more and burns a lot of loyal users. There's only so many chances people will give a company. So do an Apple and wait until the product is perfect before releasing it is the way to go.

I was tempted by the first Surface, but battery life was the main showstopper. That was fixed with the 2, but then I felt it was too heavy for a tablet, too small for a laptop. They were never ready for mainstream use, I can see why some people love them, but for most consumers they were not viable products. Now I look at the Surface Pro 3 and think it's an amazing device, perfectly realising the dream of one device to do all. It can replace my ultrabook, it means I don't need a tablet. Now sure I'd still like a Mini as a companion device, but on the whole the Pro3 is as close to perfect as current technology allows and shows that they should have waited and not ruined their rep with the previous models.

Delaying the Mini does say "don't buy any 8" tablet from Lenovo, Toshiba or Dell right now, they kind of suck" which is probably not going to make those Windows OEMs happy given that they have supported MS.

Remember what terrible reviews they got by sending the original Surface with a preview version of Office to the journalists. It was terribly slow.

They have learned a thing or two since then but could still do much better. The Surface Pro 3 presentation was good but could have been better. Panos was talking too long about what he was talking instead of actually showing the device and its improvements. Windows Store was never mentioned and while the Photoshop update was a big deal, they should have some more apps or app updates to show.

Apple never just shows new hardware. Its always in combination with new or updated software and services.

I don't mind waiting, but I want one. I don't care as much about the screen size as getting the digitizer in a non-Pro Surface. (I just hold it for Surface3 - where is that at?!) Screen ratio is the next issue, as I do think a 4:3 aspect would be preferable for notation.

The right hardware combo needs to be there as well IMHO. A proper digitizer and snap-in pen. NFC and LTE functionality. Things that would make the device pack a serious AiO punch would be required to make it stand out (even if it was running Windows RT).

deadonthefloor said,
Sounds about right.

Glad they're holding off until the right software mix is there.

Waiting for the new touch Office apps is a good idea but also, I think even more so, is waiting for the new version of Windows and updated Metro UI would help as well.

George P said,

Waiting for the new touch Office apps is a good idea but also, I think even more so, is waiting for the new version of Windows and updated Metro UI would help as well.


I don't have a problem with Windows 8 on my Surface 2, especially when I'm using it without the keyboard. I'm not sure that's a good reason to delay, Windows 8 works beautifully when using touch.

deadonthefloor said,
Sounds about right.

Glad they're holding off until the right software mix is there.


Well they could go with Office for RT for now and have the same features as SP3 in terms of note taking.
Anyway, how come no one seemed to notice a picture of a Surface device next to SP3 at the end of presentation, which seems to be actually Surface mini. One thing that's easy to notice is if you'd look closer at the cover it's clearly different layout from any other Surface device. Here's screenshot with SP2 as reference:
http://dl.dropboxusercontent.c...270/SurfacePro3announce.jpg

then if we do some Perspective correction, it also runs out that device is 3:2 just like SP3:
http://dl.dropboxusercontent.c...70/SurfacePro3announce2.jpg
https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/5044270/SurfaceMini.jpg

Seriously, I thought that this will be news just after announcement but somehow it slipped from journalists eyes.

another thing to mention: it has 4 rows of tiles unlike previous Surface models and just like new SP3
and also, despite some rumors it does have kickstand and probably the one like SP3 have.

Edited by x.iso, May 22 2014, 8:43am :

x.iso said,
another thing to mention: it has 4 rows of tiles unlike previous Surface models and just like new SP3
and also, despite some rumors it does have kickstand and probably the one like SP3 have.

Clutching at straws there I think mate, that just looks like a an older Surface to me. No way small enough to be a Mini... plus it's easy enough to enable 4 tile rows on older devices.

CrippsCorner said,

Clutching at straws there I think mate, that just looks like a an older Surface to me. No way small enough to be a Mini... plus it's easy enough to enable 4 tile rows on older devices.


Well I did some measurements and it does appear to be 10,1", but stretched to 3:2 ratio with screenshot from SP3 slapped on top of it. And the keyboard on type cover is skewed from resize distortion.

That just looks like a Surface Pro 2 as both devices seems out of proportion, even for a 3:2. And why would they move the MS button to the side and leave it at the bottom for the Mini?

Rann Xeroxx said,
That just looks like a Surface Pro 2 as both devices seems out of proportion, even for a 3:2. And why would they move the MS button to the side and leave it at the bottom for the Mini?

It's only moved because of the new keyboard magnets, perhaps the Mini wouldn't have the same keyboard... you wouldn't be typing on it in your lap after all!