Perhaps the biggest surprise at Microsoft's Surface event today was what wasn't announced: the Surface Mini. Instead, Microsoft went big with a 12-inch Surface Pro 3. The new Surface has lots of tweaks aimed at being easier to use: a more lap-friendly design, a new keyboard cover, and maybe notably, a brand-new pen.
That pen might be the key to where smaller Microsoft tablets are headed in the future.
The new Surface Pro 3 is still gunning to overtake the laptop: that means a bigger screen size, and, well, a more comfortable way to work on your lap. It makes sense that no Surface Mini was unveiled in this context: after all, eight-inch tablets are smaller. And most importantly, it's hard to marry a comfy keyboard with an eight-inch device. I know: I've tried a lot of Windows 8 8-inchers, and used the iPad Mini a ton. Small tablets have a huge convenience factor, but I use them for reading and browsing and leave the keyboards at home.
In fact, if I'm recommending an iPad to someone, I always suggest the Air over the Mini if that person is remotely interested in doing any typing on a keyboard. Smaller accessories just don't feel right.
Perhaps Microsoft can nail an 8-inch Surface Type Cover, and do it in a way that feels better than anything else. I'd love it to be true. I doubt it's physically possible without pushing the keyboard beyond the tablet's edges. But, a pen...a pen would be easy.
The new Surface Pro 3 can take notes and send them to the cloud with the push of a button. The new pen can wake up the Surface automatically for more pad-and-pen-like instant writing. A good deal of the Surface presentation was focused on the new pen, and its personal appeal. A smaller Surface Mini could easily adopt that pen, and offer the same instant-note-taking magic.
Microsoft Corporate VP Panos Panay demonstrated making red-pen edits on a movie script in Final Draft, writing quick notes and ideas down, and solving crossword puzzles on the go. You could do any of these easily on an eight-inch screen. I love the idea of red-pen edits on the go, and I know a lot of my colleagues do, too, but you don't need a twelve-inch screen for that.
Samsung has already discovered this: the Note phones and tablets have a very advanced S-Pen stylus that many people swear by. It works well on larger and smaller screens. And maybe that's what Microsoft is test-driving here with the Surface Pro 3: a new pen, and a new method of input.
If the new Surface pen succeeds, and apps begin to take great advantage of it, maybe a Surface Mini isn't far behind after all.