Microsoft Surface Mini Rumors Grow

Microsoft may soon expand its tablet and smartphone lineup with a "Surface Mini" and several new Lumia devices.
 Microsoft Surface: 10 Best And Worst Changes
Microsoft Surface: 10 Best And Worst Changes
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Microsoft's ambitions to become a major maker of devices appear to be gaining ground. Several new tablets will join the just-announced Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 in the company's line-up, according to recent reports.

The new offerings are expected to include a barrage of devices from Nokia, whose device business Microsoft is currently acquiring, as well as a smaller Surface-branded tablet that could debut alongside a Windows 8.1 update early next year.

Nokia will debut at least six new devices in October at its Innovation Reinvented event in Abu Dhabi, sources familiar with the company's roadmap told The Verge. The line-up will include at least one Windows RT 8.1 tablet, called the Lumia 2520, and at least two new Lumia smartphones, including the Lumia 1520 phablet, which earlier reports had pegged as a September release. The company has not yet been fully absorbed into Microsoft, but with the deal already in motion, it's possible Nokia delayed the 1520 so as not to distract from Microsoft's Surface announcement.

[ Microsoft has a lot to do besides fix its tablet lineup. Read Microsoft's Next Moves: 11 Takeaways. ]

Microsoft will add another device to the roster in early 2014, when it will launch a smaller Surface tablet. According to ZDNet, which cited inside sources, the so-called "Surface Mini" will debut in the spring alongside an update to Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1, as well as the debut of Windows Phone 8.1. The Surface Mini is expected to have a 7 or 8-inch screen and to run Windows RT 8.1.

The scope of the Windows 8.1 update is unknown; the OS doesn't even become available until next month, and the spring update is expected to be a General Distribution Release, which Microsoft uses to enable new features between more sweeping updates. The Windows Phone update is rumored to include a Notification Center, and perhaps a digital assistant called Cortana, which could compete with Apple's Siri and Google's Google Now.

The Lumia 2520 has been the subject of rumors for months, usually referred to by its code name, "Sirius." The device is expected to be broadly similar to Surface 2, with a 10.1-inch 1080p screen and an attachable keyboard.

It's not clear how Microsoft will market two similar products once Nokia is fully integrated, especially since both follow in the footsteps of a device virtually no one wanted-- the original Surface RT. But both the Lumia 2520 and Surface 2 should be more capable than Microsoft's earlier RT tablet.

The 2520 would also ensure that Microsoft's Surface RT and Surface 2 aren't the only Windows RT tablets on the market. Dell recently removed its XPS 10 from the market, leaving Microsoft as the lone supporter of its moribund ARM-based OS. That said, the website Geek News Central published a photo Tuesday of a new, and as yet unconfirmed, Dell Windows RT tablet, suggesting Windows RT might have more support than the current marketplace suggests.

Surface VP Panos Panay also confirmed during an "Ask Me Anything" chat on Reddit that Microsoft will launch a version of the Surface 2 with LTE support in 2014. The version that will become available Oct. 22 will only support Wi-Fi.

Analysts responded to Monday's Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 unveiling with cautious optimism. The new devices earned praise for their improved performance, longer battery life, bundled SkyDrive and Skype services, and new accessories. But many are unconvinced that the Modern UI is a competitive enough tablet ecosystem. The device's relatively high prices are also a concern; the Surface 2 starts at $449, the Surface Pro 2 starts at $899, and neither device comes with a keyboard, which will range from $119.99 to $199.99.

The additional devices should enable Microsoft to target different prices and cater to different user groups. Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 could also spur interest in Windows Store apps, or at least remove some of the UI barriers that have ostensibly discouraged adoption. But Microsoft will still have to execute much better than it did with its earlier Surface models, both of which launched to misguided marketing campaigns and overzealous pricing.

If the Surface Mini doesn't arrive until 2014, Microsoft will also have to weather a holiday season expected to feature not only a spate of cheap Android tablets, but also new iPads. Some of Microsoft's OEM partners will provide Windows 8 tablets across the pricing spectrum, which takes some pressure off Microsoft to lead the way. Windows tablets, including the new Surfaces, could also see a bump in the enterprise; Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi recently told InformationWeek some companies are interested in the devices' two-in-one capabilities.

In the meantime, the rumored devices perpetuate the theme surrounding the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2: Microsoft's device roster is improving, but it's still got a lot to prove.