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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.