Surface Mini, Bah! Can We Get to Surface Pro 3 Already?


Revisions to Microsoft's Surface Tablet family have proved to be, well, Microsoft: iterative improvements rather than drastic changes. According to press reports, it won't be until spring 2014 before the Surface Mini hits the streets, but maybe Microsoft can get ahead of its plodding two year-in-advance plan and provide an updated Surface Pro 3 as well.

Rumors say the Surface Mini will be an ARM-based tablet with a screen size falling anywhere between 7 inches to 8 inches, as compared to the current generation 10.6 inch display. The conventional wisdom is Microsoft wants a device to compete with the iPad Mini and a gazillion smaller form factor Android tablets, putting the company into a pitched dogfight in the low-end/entry-level tablet space.

Yeah, good luck with that. 

Microsoft's problem on the low-end is that it has little in the way of unique content or software that might attract customers, aside from shoving a loaded Office RT bundle onto a Mini device -- a move I think would backfire. Smaller tablets can be used for light work, but I suspect they'll fall into the same usage pattern as the Kindle Fire and iPad Mini -- content consumption devices. Light to moderate work will more likely remain the domain of the 10 inch-ish tablet with a real keyboard and trackpad/mouse support.

The other buzz-kill for the Surface and the RT operating system is the ARM processor. Intel chips are getting cheaper every generation and all of Microsoft's traditional hardware partners are focusing on a pure Window 8 tablet experience with all the backwards compatibility on an Intel processor. About the only place where Windows RT makes sense is in the phone space, rather than running a third operating system for those devices.

Combine both those factors with a (still) uncompetitive price tag when compared to alternatives, and any tablet running Surface RT might as well have "Dead Tablet Walking" stamped on the boxes.

Microsoft should stick to the middle and high-end of the tablet space, leveraging its business and enterprise legacy. Building a couple of tablets with larger screens should be the company priority, rather than get distracted by the low-end market. 

The Surface Pro 3 family should include 11 inch and 13 inch models at a minimum. A 14 or 15 inch model would be sweet, but I can't see Microsoft stretching its comfort zone that far. It should also have a combination of kickstand and/or keyboard cover to allow it to effectively function as a laptop on a lap or airplane tray table; Microsoft didn't get this right the second time around, so it'll be up to someone like Logitech to come up with a functional cover for laptop use.

Finally, the price has to be right. As much as I'd like to get a Surface Pro 2, there are an assortment of touchscreen ultrabooks and convertible laptop models at competitive prices already coming to market. For most business buyers, a Microsoft tablet will be low on the list of options.

Edited by Rory J. Thompson

Contributing Editor

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