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No Surface Mini from Microsoft on Tuesday

Gregg Keizer | May 20, 2014
Long-rumored smaller tablet will be AWOL, sources say; instead, Microsoft will play to its strengths with new devices for power users and corporations

Microsoft will not unveil a smaller-sized Surface tablet tomorrow, according to multiple sources familiar with Microsoft's plans.

The anticipated Surface, which many had assumed would be a device with a 7- or 8-in. screen — dubbed by wags as the "Surface Mini" — will, in fact, not be unveiled Tuesday at Microsoft's New York event.

Instead, Microsoft will, the sources agreed, increase the size of the Surface Pro's screen, not dive into the smaller form factor market. If accurate, the more recent rumor that a revamp of the Surface Pro will include a 12-in. display is the more accurate of the two themes pundits have put forward.

Microsoft pitches the Surface Pro as a 2-in-1, a device that can serve as either a tablet or an ultra-light notebook, depending on the task at hand.

The Surface Mini was assumed to be more akin to what Microsoft now calls the Surface 2, the second-generation of the Surface RT, a tablet that, while it also sported a 10.6-in. display, was powered by Windows RT, a tablet-only operating system that featured colorful tiles and boasted a new ecosystem of apps.

Talk of the Mini centered around Windows RT, the OS created for the ARM processor architecture, because at 7- or 8-in., there seemed to be little reason to plump for legacy apps that had little or no touch support. Instead, the Mini was to compete with lower-priced tablets from the likes of Apple, Samsung and Amazon. Those tablets, and the glut of even cheaper devices, so-called "white box" tablets, are used almost exclusively to consume content, and are generally seen as unsuitable for creating content.

But Windows RT has had a very rough time. Last year Microsoft was forced to take a $900 million write-down for excess Surface RT inventory. Since then, many analysts have questioned the wisdom of pressing forward on Windows RT, believing that the two operating systems simply confused potential customers.

The lack of a smaller Surface, coupled with a shift to even larger screens, hints that, for the time being, Microsoft's strategy will shift from a consumer-commercial combination —Surface 2/Surface Mini for the former, Surface Pro for the latter — to focus more on the enterprise, as well as power users willing to pay top price.

It makes sense: Analysts interviewed last week argued that the Surface Pro, especially the second-generation Surface Pro 2, had gained some traction in corporate environments, both because it runs legacy Windows applications and could conceivably replace both a tablet and a notebook.

With the Surface Pro — including the anticipated new models of tomorrow — Microsoft can play to its strengths, which remain in the enterprise and rely heavily on the Office productivity suite. By sticking with corporate offerings only, the company can also more easily charge the premium prices necessary to turn a profit, something Microsoft's tablet business has been unable to do thus far.


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