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5/6/2014
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Microsoft Surface Mini Likely Debuts May 20

Microsoft will hold a Surface-related event on May 20, presumably to announce the long-rumored Surface Mini.

Microsoft Office For iPad: 7 Questions Answered
Microsoft Office For iPad: 7 Questions Answered
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Late Monday afternoon, Microsoft issued press invitations to a Surface-related event in New York City on May 20. Commentators widely assume the company will unveil the so-called Surface Mini. Microsoft has never acknowledged plans for such a product, though the alleged device has been a rumor-mill fixture for more than a year. The invitation encourages recipients to join the Surface team for a "small gathering" but provides no other insight into the event's agenda.

Last month, the Chinese company Vostrostone listed Surface Mini accessories on Amazon. Companies sometimes advertise such products based on rumors, but Vostrostone is accepting pre-orders and listing their availability as May 18. Around the same time, the Microsoft blog Neowin and the website ZDNet separately reported, citing unnamed sources, that Surface Mini will emphasize digital note-taking.

[Planning to install the latest version of Windows? Read Windows 8.1 Update: 8 Tips to Avoid Headaches.]

Like many long-running rumors, the Surface Mini's alleged details have evolved over time. Websites and publications including ZDNet, The Wall Street Journal, and The Verge have published reports over the months, all of them informed by anonymous sources. Microsoft's mini-slate has been variously described as a sophisticated e-reader built to leverage Microsoft's Nook investment, or a gamer's tablet that could complement the Xbox. Among Microsoft execs, VP Panos Panay has come closest to confirming the Surface Mini. He stated last fall that Microsoft was working on Surface form factors but did not elaborate.

Current rumors center on the device's alleged digital note-taking capabilities, which could include an advanced stylus and a 7- or 8-inch screen with a 4:3 aspect ratio. All current Surfaces feature 10.6-inch 16:9 HD displays, which are great for landscape-style activities such as watching movies, but unwieldy for portrait-style, one-handed tasks such as perusing Word documents, websites, and PDFs. Apple's iPads feature 4:3 screens that make them well-suited to document review.

If Microsoft attempts to position the Surface Mini as a superlative note-taking device, its Office products might be part of the question. Whether the device runs Windows 8.1 or, as rumors hold, Windows RT, it will run some version of Office. The versions available on current Surfaces support touch and pen input. But the apps are haptic-minded tweaks of the desktop versions, not the ground-up rebuild Microsoft displayed in the Office for iPad suite. Last month at Build, Microsoft showed off a Modern UI version of PowerPoint. Time will tell if new Office apps are part of the Surface Mini's appeal.

Third-party cases for the alleged Surface Mini are already available on Amazon.
Third-party cases for the alleged Surface Mini are already available on Amazon.

Whether it's a new Office experience or some other new feature, the new Surface will likely need to offer more than a scaled-down, presumably cheaper version of its predecessors. Last month, Microsoft disclosed that its Surface products are still losing money. The company tried to give the news a positive spin by stressing improving margins, but the Surface line's modest improvement overshadows neither the tablets' niche status nor the market's larger indifference to Windows tablets in general.

Moreover, the tablet market might be leveling off. A year ago, smaller tablets were still enjoying explosive growth, but according to the latest figures from the research firm IDC, the market expanded only 3.9% year-over-year during the most recent quarter. IDC analysts said phablets have cannibalized demand for pure tablets.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella will preside over the New York event, according to a ZDNet report, which cited inside sources. Microsoft's press invitation didn't mention Nadella, whose attendance was clearly indicated on invites to the company's recent Office for iPad and data strategy events. We've reached out to Microsoft for comment.

Over the last few weeks, Nadella has put his stamp on a range of Microsoft's core assets -- but he's so far lavished the least attention on his company's device efforts, particularly the Surface line. Accordingly, it would make sense for Nadella to announce whatever news Microsoft has planned for New York. The new CEO has shown he can sell the cloud -- but can he sell hardware too?

Could the growing movement toward open-source hardware rewrite the rules for computer and networking hardware the way Linux, Apache, and Android have for software? Also in the Open Source Hardware issue of InformationWeek: Mark Hurd explains his "once-in-a-career opportunity" at Oracle.

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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batye
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batye,
User Rank: Ninja
5/12/2014 | 12:46:29 PM
Re: Microsoft miss-understands the business customers again
yes, same in Canada 256 no where to be find...
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
5/12/2014 | 10:39:26 AM
Re: Microsoft miss-understands the business customers again
Microsoft's target market for most Surface products are the consumers but they are over priced compared to Android offerings and under featured compared to Apple offerings.  MS actually hit the ball out of the park with the Surface Pro 2 for business but the 256gig version is nowhere to be found.  Plenty of 16gig and 512+gig but too small and too expensive.
LorinThwaits
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LorinThwaits,
User Rank: Guru
5/10/2014 | 11:08:54 AM
A bad OS makes the hardware useless
A change in hardware won't help things.  The real reasons we hate Windows 8 persist -- those crappy charms, two different control panels, very difficult to navigate Metro apps, a janky App Store clone being the only way to patch the thing...

This whole thing is like having a lover who is saddled with a horrible addiction and claims, "Oh but I can change!"  AND NEVER DOES.  Only minimal strides towards getting clean -- and then a complete relapse.  The hell continues.
batye
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batye,
User Rank: Ninja
5/10/2014 | 1:36:26 AM
Re: Microsoft miss-understands the business customers again
I do not know... but from my point of view Microsft trying to grab all corners of the market with Surface selling devices at loss... how I see it...
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
5/7/2014 | 1:01:54 PM
Microsoft miss-understands the business customers again
It is nice Microsoft can bring this new product to market while ignoring others. The Surface Pro 2 - 256GB has been out of stock since its release. Microsoft finally provides a product businesses will buy but there are none to be had.  Meanwhile Microsoft keeps producing more unwanted Surface products.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
5/7/2014 | 12:32:25 AM
Nadella attending? More than one new Surface product?
Just an update to the bit in the article about whether Nadella will attend the New York event: Microsoft predictably responded, "We have nothing to share."

But as I indicated in the article, that's sort of interesting. Nadella made three appearances in San Francisco over the last six weeks, and each time, Microsoft stressed in advance that he'd be in attendance.

Maybe Microsoft's being secretive because it's up to something bigger than we think. There's a new rumor floating around (per Bloomberg) that Microsoft might introduce not only the Surface Mini, but also some other new devices. There were reports a while back (more than a year, I think) that a Surface-branded smartwatch was in development. And I still eventually expect a Surface smartphone, in addition to whatever Lumia-type flagships are out there.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
5/7/2014 | 12:22:38 AM
Re: Note taking?
If it's anything like my previous experiences with styluses, I don't see note-taking as a killer feature. But according to rumors, the Surface Mini's stylus is supposed to be something new and special. We'll see.

There's also a new rumor floating around that OneNote will be deeply "baked" into the Surface Mini experience. That's kind of interesting. Ballmer often talked about the importance of matching hardware to software-- a feat Apple regularly accomplishes, but that the current Surfaces only sort of accomplish. Perhaps the Surface Mini will produce a better hardware-software fusion.
anon3486165362
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anon3486165362,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/6/2014 | 10:36:37 PM
Re: What?
"4:3 ratio on ANY content consumption device is just plain stupid."

No, it's not. 4:3 is a great ratio for reading PDF journal articles in a format similar to a printed copy, and being able to see the whole page at a glace. 4:3 works fine for eBooks. And the difference in browser expereince between my 4:3 iPad and my 16:9 Android tablet is negligible.

I don't buy into the 16:9 is better "hype," just because people want to bash Apple. There are plenty of reasons to bash Apple. But the proportions of the iPad display are among the weakest.
anon3486165362
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anon3486165362,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/6/2014 | 10:30:55 PM
Re: Note taking?
Well, I'm swayed.

I don't have an iPad mini. I have an iPad - with 64GB and LTE. And I've pretty much stopped using it except for browsing the web or checking email.

Over the last 2 years, I've gotten tired with how compartmentalized iOS wants the data and files to be. I've happily used Noteshelf for a while, but can't get the files on my computer without actually exporting them and copying them over (or using Dropbox). Oh, there are most definitely some cool apps. They're just not things I actually use on a regular basis.

I've been looking for a tablet that will let me take handwritten notes and automatically sync them with my desktop. I want something with a functional stylus, rather than the various devices I've bought from Addonit or Hex3. A Windows 8.1 tablet with OneNote would do that quite nicely.And, let's not forget that Windows 8.1 does handwriting recognition quite well, while Apple won't even let the user select a different keyboard (unlike Android).

Plus, I've grown tired of "office suites" that don't quite do everything that Word or Excel will do. I've some spreadsheets I carry around that just don't work well outside of Excel.

I agree that Nadella is playing a game of catch-up. But the Asus Vivotab Note 8 has my attention at the moment. I looked at the Dell Venue 8 Pro, but the wonky stylus is a no-go. So Microsoft could, possibly, take the money I've been intending to send to Asus.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
5/6/2014 | 2:34:04 PM
Note taking?
It's hard for me to believe note-taking capabiities would sway someone to choose a MS mini-tablet over an Apple iPad mini. Anyone having such a bad note-taking experience that you'd switch? Nadella is playing a tough game of catch-up in this product category.
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