Microsoft Surface 'Mini' -- dead, alive, or in limbo?

Ongoing activity at Asia-based display suppliers hints at a Surface "Mini" tablet, an IHS analyst tells CNET. But its fate is unclear.

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Microsoft's smaller tablet isn't dead -- at least not in the supply chain, says IHS Technology. Brooke Crothers screen capture/Microsoft

The much-rumored small Surface tablet was a no-show at Microsoft's Surface event earlier this month. But it's still kicking around in the supply chain of component manufacturers, a display analyst told CNET.

"From the supply side of it, we continue to see activity from them on the [smaller] Surface product," said Rhoda Alexander, who directs IHS Technology's monitor and tablet research, referring to displays. (Alexander correctly predicted the 12-inch Surface Pro 3 before it launched.)

But "as it currently stands, it does not look like it's ready to launch in the near future. But that's something that we're watching for later this year," she said.

Bloomberg reported last week that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Executive Vice President Stephen Elop became disenchanted with the Mini and "decided that the product in development wasn't different enough from rivals and probably wouldn't be a hit."

Consequently, the product was yanked from last week's Surface event at the last minute.

Alexander, who tracks display activity at suppliers, said orders for the smaller display (which she pegs at 7.5 inches) spiked in the fall of last year and then again in the March-April period this year. Those total display numbers were well over 100,000.

And those were panels shipped to Microsoft, according to Alexander.

"Ball park figures I've heard from the supply chain is that it would be Microsoft's highest volume [Surface] product to date," she said, referring to the actual finished product, not just displays.

The question now is, does past activity have any correlation to an actual future product or has it in fact been canceled?

"I don't see them purchasing that kind of volume if they've canceled the product," she said.

As for Microsoft, it's choosing its words carefully.

"Windows on ARM continues to be an important part of the Windows strategy," Microsoft's Panos Panay said in a Reddit AMA session earlier this week, referring to the processor and operating system that a small Surface tablet is expected to use.

And Panay told Bloomberg after the May 20 Surface Pro 3 event that Microsoft "is still working on smaller versions."

But the company's caution is warranted. The 8-inch class Windows 8.1 tablet market has quickly become saturated with products from Dell, Lenovo, Toshiba, and Asus, not to mention scores of small vendors. Microsoft will find it increasingly difficult to compete in that arena as time goes on.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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