While Microsoft prepared for the release of its Surface Pro 3, rumors started to circulate about a new Surface Mini tablet, with the reports citing material released by Microsoft itself. However, the Surface Pro 3 release has come and gone, and there is no sign that a mini tablet from Microsoft will appear any time soon.
What Happened to the Surface Mini?
Some reports indicate Microsoft has actually finished development of a mini version of its Surface tablet, according to one such report in Digitimes, but Microsoft did not start production as originally planned. The purported reason is that the high degree of competition in the mini tablet space makes launching a new product a risky move, unless it is one that would clearly stand out above the rest. Microsoft is not confident that its mini tablet is going to be truly competitive as it stands today; instead of launching it only for it to be quickly lost among a slew of other mini tablets, Microsoft will postpone the launch of this new product—or possibly never bring it to market at all.
Microsoft has other things to focus on, as well. The Surface Pro 3 is a new kind of product in the tablet world, designed to be a true hybrid computer as it can function equally well as a tablet or a desktop. Intended for professionals who need (and can pay for) an upscale tablet with a lot of functionality, the Surface Pro 3 may or may not be the success among its intended market group, as it’s still too early to tell. But it’s easy to imagine that postponing a lower-end tablet intended for a different set of consumers looked like the right decision as the company focuses on the high-end tablet market.
Does Microsoft Need a Mini Tablet?
It’s also easy to see why Microsoft would design a mini tablet in the first place, even if the postponed launch suggests it has had second thoughts. Seven-inch tablets are a clear hit among consumers, both for their size and portability, as well as their lower prices in comparison to larger tablets. An analysis by Time late last year clearly shows that consumers prefer seven-inch tablets over larger options. While a larger screen size may be nice for watching media, browsing the Internet, or using specialty apps such as graphics and drawing programs, a 10-inch tablet is just a little bit too unwieldy to carry around and too large to fit in a pocket or in many purses. It’s certainly easier to carry around than most laptops, but only if the user carries a bag large enough for it to fit into (and if laptop design continues in the direction of the MacBook Air and other ultra-thin, ultra-light notebooks, larger tablets may lose even more of their portability advantage).
Price is another serious consideration, one that makes smaller tablets appealing. Smaller tablets are often $100-$200 less expensive than their larger counterparts, and low-end tablets are less expensive still. Even consumers who are willing to pay for top brand tablets such as Apple’s iPad or Samsung’s Galaxy line may drop to smaller tablets, which are still practical options to get lots of functionality and save some cash.
Microsoft’s latest tablet release goes in exactly the opposite direction, with Surface Pro 3 prices starting at $799.99. Granted, Microsoft’s intentions for this tablet are different, as it is not designed to appeal to the most price-conscious consumers. But that also limits its market appeal to a much smaller segment of people who want great hardware and functionality and are willing to pay for it. Other mini tablets are far more appealing for people who simply want a nice, portable tablet for Web browsing, consuming media, and using a few apps.
Microsoft will need to release a high-quality, low-cost mini tablet if it wants to grab a piece of this large and lucrative market. But if it is unable to design a tablet with competitive specs and at a low enough price point, the mini tablet market may have already passed the company by.