Microsoft’s Surface tablets haven’t been the biggest hits, but that’s not going to stop the company from releasing new variations to try and win over those cautious consumers. Rumors continue to gather about a new series of Surface tablets, all with screen sizes below 8.5 inches. No official announcement has been made yet, so we’ve collected everything we’ve heard into a handy roundup.
Updated on 07-23-2014 by Malarie Gokey: In its earnings report for the fourth quarter of 2014, Microsoft essentially confirmed that it killed the Surface Mini.
The Surface Mini is dead
In its earnings report for the fourth quarter of 2014, Microsoft essentially confirmed that a Surface Mini was in the works, but it had to kill the project.
“Current year cost of revenue included Surface inventory adjustments resulting from our transition to newer generation devices and a decision to not ship a new form factor,” the company said in its report.
Microsoft would say no more on the subject, but it seems likely that the Surface Mini is gone for good.
Microsoft pulls Surface Mini from event
Microsoft called an event for May 20 in New York, where it was initially believed it would announce the Surface Mini. The invitation said the event would be a “small” gathering concentrating on the Surface, but it looks like Microsoft was being ironic, because the one-and-only star of the show was the 12-inch Surface Pro 3. Was it irony, or does the Surface Mini still not meet Microsoft’s standards? Rumors about the Surface Pro 3 had started to appear prior to the event, and a last-minute report published by ComputerWorld.com, citing anonymous sources, correctly stated Microsoft wouldn’t announce the Surface Mini during the event.
Microsoft reportedly canceled the Mini because it felt the tablet would be too expensive to compete with all the $100-$200 budget tablets.
Does this doesn’t mean the Surface Mini will never launch? A report published by Bloomberg says Microsoft cancelled plans to reveal the tablet at the last minute, and references to Qualcomm’s involvement, along with other Surface Mini promo material, was quickly removed from the event venue. Apparently, the decision to cancel the Mini came from CEO Satya Nadella, and former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop. An analyst told the site the tablet may still launch, but it’s unlikely to do so until 2015.
In late June, a new report from DigiTimes stated that Microsoft decided to cancel production of the Surface Mini indefinitely. Unnamed sources told the publication that although the Surface Mini was fully developed and ready to go into production in May 2014, Microsoft nixed the project, citing concerns that the 7-to-8-inch tablet market is too saturated already.
The sources did say that Microsoft has already paid for development and production equipment. They added that the Surface Mini features a 7.5- to 8-inch display, ARM processors, OneNote, and Windows RT 8.1. Microsoft reportedly canceled the Mini because it felt the tablet would be too expensive to compete with all the $100-$200 budget tablets out there.
Surface Mini references spotted throughout Surface Pro 3 guide
Even though the Mini’s launch date may be pushed back to 2015, it’s clear that the device does exist. In late June, Paul Thurrott, the creator of popular the Supersite for Windows, tweeted that references to the Surface Mini were “all over the Surface Pro 3 User Guide.” A brief read-through reveals multiple slip-ups and indicates that Microsoft probably did intend to launch both tablets in May.
There are Surface Mini references all over the Surface Pro 3 User Guide. Hilarious. — Paul Thurrott (@thurrott) June 20, 2014
It doesn’t take long to find the references, either. By the time you get to page five of the user guide, Microsoft has already spilled the beans. “You’ll pair your new pen with Surface Mini a little later during setup,” the guide says in the pen section. Much later on, the guide also tell you that you can “rotate Surface Mini the way you want it,” and informs you that “Bluetooth technology links your Surface Pen to your Surface Mini or Surface Pro 3.” Apparently, Microsoft forgot to edit out references to the unreleased Surface Mini from its Surface Pro 3 user guide, because the references don’t stop there – they continue throughout the entire document.
Surface Mini rumors have spread for years
The first Surface Mini reports started appearing even before the first Surface tablets were officially announced, following a leaked document showing the possible spec for a 7-inch tablet. It wasn’t until April 2013 that we heard more, when The Wall Street Journal mentioned that “a new lineup of Surface tablets, including a 7-inch version,” would go into production by the end of the year. The 7-inch tablet was apparently a response to the popularity of the Nexus 7, the Kindle Fire, and all the many other examples available at the time. Since then, 7-inch tablets have fallen from grace in favor of models around 8 inches in size, such as the iPad Mini and the LG G Pad. Noted Microsoft watcher Paul Thurrott tweeted soon after The Wall Street Journal article was published that he was told the “next Surface is an 8-inch model, not 7 inches.” In September 2013, Mary Jo Foley, writing for ZDNet, said sources had informed her the launch of the Mini range had been delayed until spring 2014. One possible reason: Microsoft wanted to launch the tablets with a Windows 8.1 update, referred to as Spring 2014 GDR. In light of the May 20 event, it now looks like the Surface Mini has been delayed again, potentially until 2015, during which time it’ll need a spec overhaul if it’s to have any kind of impact in the future.
New screen size for Surface, and 4G LTE connectivity
Around the same time, analysts at IHS iSuppli said Microsoft was working on a tablet using Windows RT, and fitted with a 7.5-inch touchscreen. The resolution was listed as an unusual 1,400 × 1,050 pixels, with a 4:3 aspect ratio (like an iPad). This is unusual because existing Surface tablets have a 16:9 ratio. Speaking at a Surface press event last October, Microsoft’s Panos Panay said the company was working on “Multiple aspect ratios and sizes and awesome things to come from Surface.” The Surface Pro 3 shuns the traditional 16:9 aspect ratio, choosing instead a paper-like 3:2 ratio. In addition to altering the screen ratio, the Surface Mini may be separated from some of its larger brethren by having 3G and 4G LTE connectivity. This would follow the quiet introduction of a 4G LTE versions of the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablets in March. Rumors spread in September 2013 suggested the tablet would enter production sometime between January and March 2014. The same rumor attached an approximate $450 price tag to the Mini, making it less than the 16GB iPad Mini Retina with 4G.
Surface Mini could have an 8.5-inch screen
Moving into 2014, in January a tweet from @MSFTnerd’s account said the Surface Mini would be announced before Microsoft revealed the third generation of full-size Surface tablets. The Surface 2 models will be a year old at the end of September, so Microsoft has plenty of time to meet this timeframe. At the end of February, reports quoting sources inside the Taiwanese supply chain began appearing, reiterating much of what we’d heard before, by saying Microsoft was planning a range of new mobile devices with screen sizes below 8.5 inches. Apparently Microsoft may be considering a launch at the Computex trade show scheduled for June. A new set of possible specifications also popped up. The odd resolution heard in previous rumors was replaced by a more standard 1080p pixel count, and instead of Windows RT, the Mini may run the full version of Windows 8.1, complete with the first major software update installed.
Will it use an Intel, or a Qualcomm chip?
An Intel Bay Trail processor was also mentioned in the report, backing up the claim it’ll run the full version of the operating system, but not everyone is convinced. A Bloomberg report at the beginning of May said Microsoft had decided to use a Qualcomm processor inside the Surface Mini and end its partnership with Nvidia. If a Qualcomm chip is present, then the Mini will run Windows RT. Nokia chose a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chip to power the Lumia 2520 tablet, one of only a few other Windows RT tablets on sale. An industry source told CNet Microsoft “definitely [has] a new Intel-based Surface,” to reveal, but rather than the Mini, it could be a reference to the Surface Pro 3. There is another possibility, that the Intel-based tablet is a Surface Mini Pro running full Windows 8.1, but there has been no evidence to show Microsoft is working on such a device.