Microsoft Surface Mini tipped but it already faces a challenge

surface mini case

Months of speculation and rumors around a small Microsoft Surface Mini tablet could culminate in a product soon. While the physical evidence may be flimsy, a manufacturer is taking pre-orders for a case to fit a small Surface tablet, which Microsoft hasn’t announced. Sources tell Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley, however, that the Surface Mini tablet is “waiting in the wings for an announcement” so perhaps the case is an early leak after all.

I think the chances of a Microsoft Surface Mini launch are high but I’m not sold on the need for it. At least not yet, based on the whispers of what the device might actually be.

Foley’s sources suggest the Surface Mini will be around seven to eight inches in size and powered by an ARM processor, just like the original Surface and Surface 2 products. That would make the device fan-less and likely give it good battery performance; say 8 to 10 hours, if not better. It will likely come with a digital stylus for on-screen note taking and other pen-based activities. Sounds good so far, right?

dell venue 8 pro

There’s a problem though: There are already a number of solid Windows slates available in that size that can run for 8 or more hours on a change. Some even have a digital pen. And here’s the kicker: These current models all run Windows 8.1 not Windows RT, which is still a bit hobbled in terms of its app ecosystem and lack of legacy Windows app support.

These slates also start at reasonable prices: You can nab a Dell Venue Pro 8 for $249, for example and get Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 software included. Similar offers and devices are available from Lenovo, Toshiba, Asus and others. I made a similar argument against the original Surface tablets last year, noting that the Intel-powered Windows 8 slates offered more functionality, better app support and similar battery life for comparable prices. Microsoft may need to price a Surface Mini at $200 to $249 or less to generate interest against the incumbent products.

Surface 2

There is one difference in the market now, however, which is why I noted above that I’m not sold on a Surface Mini yet: Universal Windows Apps can help bridge the app gap here.

This strategy, announced last month by Microsoft, makes it easy for developers to create one Windows app that can — with relatively minimal effort — run on Windows Phone, Windows RT and the Windows 8 platforms.

Windows consistency

Photo by Kevin Tofel/Gigaom

 

That will certainly help the current Microsoft Surface product and any new Surface Mini, should the company offer it. But uptake time from developers is a factor: Why try to sell yet another Surface product if developers aren’t making their apps compatible?

Foley suggests that the touch-friendly version of Office for Windows could arrive in tandem with a Surface Mini announcement. That too would help a small slate from Redmond. Hopefully if Microsoft has learned one thing from its initial costly Surface efforts, it is timing. As a it plays follow the leaders in the tablet game, Microsoft can’t take the approach of “if we build it, they (developers and consumers) will come.”

 

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