Microsoft's Surface Mini: Not until spring 2014?

Microsoft's Surface Mini: Not until spring 2014?

Summary: Microsoft may not get its first Surface Mini tablet out the door until Spring 2014 -- which is looking like the same time when its Windows variants may get a refresh, sources say.

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There's been a lot of speculation -- and still no official confirmation from Microsoft -- that the company will field one or more "mini" versions of its Surface tablet.

surface2mini

That speculation has been heating up, especially with Amazon launching two new Kindle Fires this week.

As I've blogged before, I've heard that the coming Surface Mini will be an ARM-based tablet. I continue to hear that's the plan.

There have been a variety of rumors on the supposed screen size of the coming Surface Mini -- everything from 7 inches, to 7.5 inches to 8 inches. There also have been rumors and speculation that Microsoft might market the first Surface Mini as an "Xbox Surface," hoping to capitalize on the Xbox franchise and user base. I don't have anything to offer to advance or quash any of these rumors.

On the operating system front, however, I do have some new information.

One of my sources who has been solid on Microsoft's roadmap in the past says the Surface Mini is coming, but not in calendar 2013. Supposedly, this source claims, Microsoft is going to launch the Surface Mini in early 2014. The reason? The Surface Mini is going to come preloaded with a Windows 8.1 update, that is codenamed "Spring 2014 GDR."

(GDR, as those following Windows Phone know, stands for "General Distribution Release." Microsoft is in the midst of finalizing its third GDR for Windows Phone 8. GDR3 will add 1080p support and the ability to run the Windows Phone OS on five- and six-inch devices.)

The Spring 2014 GDR for Windows 8.1 will align with Windows Phone "Blue," which may or may not be called Windows Phone 8.1 when it ships, according to my sources. Whatever it's called, it will be the first "major" update for Windows Phone since Microsoft rolled out Windows Phone 8 in fall 2012.

If the new cross-divisional operating system division at Microsoft can pull this off, Microsoft will launch Windows 8.1 Spring 2014 GDR, Windows Phone Blue and the Surface Mini on or around the same time in spring 2014.

A few points worth noting:

1. Why is Microsoft so "late" with the Surface Mini? I've heard from several sources that the new OS engineering team, under Executive Vice President Terry Myerson, is working overtime to finish the Xbox One operating system. Like Windows 8.1, it's a constantly evolving thing. Two sources have told me that Microsoft is reassigning some of its Windows developers to Xbox One to help that team do the fit and finish on the Xbox One OS. Myerson's team's priorities for this calendar year are completing the Xbox One OS, releasing Windows 8.1 for general availability (which means providing final OS and app updates before October 18), and getting Windows Phone 8 GDR3 out the door.

2. Why is Microsoft continuing to back ARM and Windows RT, especially with Intel's new Haswell and Bay Trail chips finally coming to market? In spite of tepid market reception and a backing away by other Windows OEMs from the platform, Microsoft is not going to dump Windows RT. The company still believes ARM offers better price points and battery life possibilities, from what I've heard. Microsoft likes Windows RT because it allows the company to field an OS with less/no crapware, viruses and piracy because of how locked-down (by Microsoft) ARM-based Windows RT machines are.

3. Is there a longer-term/big-picture strategy and plan? Myerson hinted last week during Microsoft's Financial Analyst Meeting that he sees a world where "phones extend into tablets" on the ARM front. There will be a variety of ARM-based devices running Windows, in Microsoft's view, some of which will be phones, some tablets and some phablets. The Surface Mini fits in here, as does the expected Nokia "Bandit" phablet and ARM-based "Sirius" tablet. Over time, the OSes running on these different form factors will converge. I'm doubtful "Windows RT" will be the name of whatever runs on these platforms. Maybe Microsoft will (finally) just call all its OSes "Windows" -- even if they aren't really the same thing. 

That's all I've got right now. Remember: Don't shoot the messenger. And all Microsoft roadmaps are subject to possible derailments potentially caused by new CEOs with new business plans and/or reorg mayhem. 

Update: Here's a good question. Is the promised Surface 2 with LTE support actually the Surface Mini, given that both are expected in "early" 2014? I don't know, but maybe....

Update No. 2: Another Microsoft deliverable that possibly could align with this bunch of spring 2014 things? The Metro-Style/Windows Store touch-first apps, codenamed "Gemini," which Microsoft has said will be out in 2014. I've heard "summer 2014" is looking more likely, but who knows....

Topics: Mobile OS, Microsoft, Mobility, Tablets, ARM, PCs, Business Intelligence, Microsoft Surface

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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30 comments
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  • Shoot?

    Why would anyone shoot someone as nice and friendly as you?
    rjohn05
    • Famous or infamous?

      Or someone who gets called out by name during a mini-MS keynote. :)
      Michael L Jones
    • RT

      I Like for 2 reasons. One is mentioned in this article: no crapware, the other is that I don't car about Windows destkop app on a Touch First device, so why bother. Beside, the iPad has the same limitation.
      gbouchard99@...
      • Ya, one huge issue your exactly right about...

        RE: The OS limitations of Windows RT

        " Beside, the iPad has the same limitation."

        Exactly. The only advantage of the iPad was that 90% of the people who bought them didn't know what they were really getting. Most didn't know iOS from OSX and just thought the iPad was an interesting idea. I know people who actually got the iPad and thought it was just another version of Windows!! Of course they were more than a little taken aback once it was made clear to them that an Apple operating system is in no way just the same as a Windows operating system and that the iOS they were getting was closer to an iPhone than an Apple computer to begin with. They sort of knew what theey were getting, but on the other hand they really didn't.

        Windows RT has one disadvantage compared to the iPad in that huge numbers of people use Windows computers every day, and hence in their own unsavvy IT way equate computers with Windows and as such you show them a tablet and say Windows RT, many of them will expect its just another Windows based computer system thinking it will behave just like a Windows computer they have at home or work. And we know the answer to that is; not exactly.

        But indeed, these doinks around here who claim that this is some kind of huge problem for Microsoft, I seriously doubt it given the stark evidence of the iPad. While its true that many who bought the iPad were confused about its OS and what it could and could not do, millions still sold and they generally continue to sell, even new models as upgrades from older ones. Evidently many people have learned too live with hobbled mobile operating systems. There is ZERO reason why people cannot get similar kinds of usages and enjoyment out of a Windows RT tablet that they do out of a similarly hobbled iPad.

        So let it just be suffice to say that the nut bars who refused to address the fact that many purchased iPads under a mistaken understanding of just what exactly its limited operating system could do, cannot, with any genuine integrity, now say a similar Windows based OS has some special problem because it disappoints people who might be expecting a full fledged operating system when the same problem for iPads was almost avoided being spoken about entirely. And it was an issue. I know of at least one iPad purchase that was returned when the proud MacBook owner suddenly came to realize this wasn't OSX he was dealing with at all on his new iPad.

        And like it or not, that's true. Imagine, he owns an Apple MacBook but even he didn't really understand, even months after the iPads release that it wasn't good old OSX powering that slab.

        So don't tell me now, all of a sudden because its Windows that a hobbled mobile type OS on a tablet is a problem that kills sales. If sales are getting killed, its more than an iOS vs. RT as an operating system that's causing that.
        Cayble
        • Wow, I'm impressed at the number of people that you know

          even though you don't know me. Because you would have to have many 10s of millions of friends to know that 90% did not know what they were buying when they bought an iPad.

          In short, a truly absurd and ridiculous - and completely unsupportable - statement!
          1,2,3
          • no one, I repeat no one, thought iPad ran OS X

            Not even your imaginary MacBook friend.

            But plenty of people thought and think Surface runs Windows... That's because Microsoft says it does!

            Surface has no future, not because of iPad competition, but because of Microsoft competition - Windows 8 devices. There are full Windows 8 devices at the same price points as Surface, and there can be no debate that these just do a lot more. They come with a more powerful operating system.

            So why would anyone willingly buy a device that does the same thing as these devices for the same price point, but fewer of them?

            Consumers aren't stupid - and THAT is why millions of Surfaces languish in a warehouse.
            Mac_PC_FenceSitter
          • Its not Surface that's the problem...

            I have heard some tech "journalist" criticize the Surface device build as ugly or blockish, etc yet cream over anything Apple comes out with. The truth is, the Surface devices have rather nice looking, high quality build devices with a lot of hardware features and flexibility.

            Now take the Surface 2 and put a Baytrail processor in it. Now you have a nice tablet that gives you all the Metro touchy, feely that you want with a working desktop that you need. I'd buy that.
            Rann Xeroxx
  • Did you actually try to break into Panos' Surface?

    Did he really have anything interesting on that device?
    cantbeme
  • When all Microsoft OSs merge they will be called BOB!

    This name change must occur because Windows is the only thing at Microsoft that has not been renamed to something they already used in the past.
    greywolf7
  • More convergence?

    Does the mini/Xbox Surface possibly have something more like a phone/RT hybrid capabilities like run apps from either store? Interesting...
    grayknight
  • MS is following in the footsteps of BB

    They cannot wait that long The Window will be closed by spring 2014. If they wait till spring there will have been 3+ years pass since the introduction of 7" tablets with Android, iOS, and Amazon all firmly established. If it doesn't come out now, forget about it.
    greywolf7
    • Firmly established?

      LOL do you even acknowledge owners of tablets are a very small %? Not even Android/iOS PHONES are firmly established in multiple worldwide markets.
      rafaelluik
    • I agree. They can't compete.

      I saw a couple of Microsoft ads on TV last night. One for the surface, the other for the phone.

      They both were attempting to disparage Apple, even to the point of mocking Apple users trying to get pictures during a wedding. The Windows phone users were depicted at the end of the commercial, just sitting in chairs, using extreme telephoto mode while all the other people were fighting with each other to get to closer positions to take pictures.

      I'm still trying to understand the concept of trying to sell a phone, but only talking about a 41 megapixel camera, without mentioning any phone features.

      If you know anything about photography, you know it's not wise to hand hold in an extreme telephoto position, even with image stabilization.

      You take a normal picture with an Android or iPhone, and crop to get the desired image later using a free program like Picasa. There's enough resolution in even a 3 megapixel camera to do this, let alone an iPhone or Android.

      One of the first lessons in any photography book or class is to tape a small flashlight to your camera, point it at a mirror and try to keep the spot as steady as possible, which is pretty difficult. You can't hand hold a 40' stick and keep the opposite end from constantly moving around.

      For me, a much more important consideration is the automatic exposure controls, which Apple has pretty much perfected. My daughter-in-law has an iPhone 5 and posts photos without any retouching. The iPhone can easily navigate complex exposure situations with ease.

      Another thought, having a 41 megapixel sensor creates extremely large files. These become a problem if you try to email them. Even using a 3.2 Megapixel Sony camera creates large files at full resolution. Just viewing a 41 megapixel image would be like looking at a billboard on a 20" screen.

      Microsoft can be complemented for one thing though. They are experts at putting the train on the wrong track and spending billions. If I owned Microsoft stock, I'd be be very worried.

      There's even comedy being written about how dedicated Apple followers are:

      http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/borowitzreport/2013/09/in-poll-about-debt-ceiling-crisis-americans-totally-excited-about-new-iphone.html

      They are certainly not writing comedy or satire about Microsoft.
      Joe.Smetona
      • BTW.

        The only Apple I every bought was a 4th Generation iPod for my daughter about 4 years ago.

        I've seen and used the smaller iPad with an optional $35 keyboard bought from Overstock.com. It's awesome.

        I honestly don't see where anyone would need to pass it up. This is an already established performer with market presence. How's Microsoft going to look 6 months from now?
        Joe.Smetona
    • Apple resale vs. Microsoft resale, down the road.

      It's easy to sell anything Apple makes as used. People are very, very interested.

      Anyone buying Microsoft is going to find it difficult to sell at a later time.

      Microsoft can't even sell new hardware, it's going to be the same or worse trying to sell used equipment, it's going to be an oddball, that no one really cares about.
      Joe.Smetona
  • Microsoft could speed development

    Using the same code between different OS flavors would be the first step toward faster development. Based on my experience different teams are developing essentially the same things separately. WPF on win7/8 desktop, Metro interface on windows 8/RT and windows phone 8 are all slightly different. They are not exactly subsets or supersets of each other but they have small incompatible differences. You just take a code example for desktop version and it almost works on the phone but not quite. Some small things are different and it takes hours to figure them out. It wastes both Microsoft and non-Microsoft developer time and it is not good for Microsoft.
    paul2011
    • Agree but...

      I agree with you about the need to converge the APIs at least. However all you need do is look at BlackBerry to see what will happen if you're late. It's imperative to do incremental releases, to stay in front of the customers with current product, to make it all seamless, and rapid. Now, now, now because tomorrow will be too late.
      greywolf7
      • With all your posts

        you need your own forum.
        Moosehouse
    • Completly agree

      Unify the teams so maybe they can provide API's that really are subset ou super-set of each other.
      Doesn't make sense that the windows phone (witch runs on a more limited hardware) provides build in API to SQL CE but the WinRT doesn't provide it ?
      Doesn't make sense that the windows phone's API acepts a complex-type object to save as an application setting and the WinRT just acepts strings.

      Very disapointing.
      Don't tell me that Portable Class Libraries could solve the problem because it could't.
      When you choose the windows 8 and windows phone 8 as the target framework you gets almost nothing to use inside de PCL.
      Eder Cardoso
  • Already exists

    "Myerson hinted last week during Microsoft's Financial Analyst Meeting that he sees a world where "phones extend into tablets" on the ARM front."

    That world already exists (e.g. Android, iOS), it's just that Microsoft is apparently living "off-world."
    rbgaynor