What Microsoft didn't announce today: An ARM-based Surface Mini

What Microsoft didn't announce today: An ARM-based Surface Mini

Summary: In spite of numerous leaks indicating an ARM-based Surface was going to be launched at Microsoft's "small gathering" in New York City, no such device materialized. What happened?


It's not fair to call an unofficially announced product "delayed" when it doesn't debut according to the rumored schedule.


But that said, I'm calling the ARM-based Surface Mini delayed. I won't say the long-rumored device has been axed (though it may have been). But I will say, based on reports from my own trusted sources, not to mention sources from a number of my colleagues, Microsoft was planning to unveil a seven-to-eight-inch ARM-based Surface tablet on May 20 in New York City.

It didn't happen. Instead, the company rolled out an Intel Core-based Surface Pro 3 with a 12-inch screen.

So what happened to the Surface Mini? I have a couple theories.

One, I'd say Windows 9, a k a "Threshold," happened.

It was no secret that Microsoft Operating System Group chief, the Terry Myerson is/was no fan of Windows RT operating system that currently powers the Surface RT and Surface 2 devices. And it's also widely believed that Myerson's team is in the midst of revamping the version of Windows that runs on ARM so that the same version of Windows will be able to run on ARM-based Windows Phones and smaller ARM-based Windows tablets.

Secondly, Microsoft officials said that the reason the company got into the PC/tablet business was to address the segments of the market that its partners couldn't/wouldn't. There are already a few affordable 8-inch Windows 8.x tablets on the market from Dell and Lenovo, among others.

And without the "Gemini" touch-first versions of Office apps for Windows that are in development, would a Surface Mini make a lot of sense? There is a version of OneNote that works on Windows RT, but the other core Office apps still require the Desktop in Windows 8.X. 

What are your theories? Why did Microsoft either kill or postpone again the Surface Mini? Will it ever surface?

Update 1 on May 21: Bloomberg had an interesting take on why Microsoft didn't announce the Surface Mini on May 20. According to their sources, CEO Satya Nadella and Devices group chief Stephen Elop put the kibosh on the product because it wasn't differentiated enough from rival offerings. 

Update 2 on May 21: Neowin is reporting that Microsoft went so far as to make 15,000 to 20,000 Surface Mini units before deciding to put the announcement on hold. These units aren't being warehoused and dumped; they're probably test units or partially finished product, I'd bet. Like I speculated above, the reason for the hold-up could be the unavailability of Office Gemini, Neowin claims.

Microsoft execs aren't commenting on why/whether the Surface Mini was delayed again. But as Surface chief Panos Panay has made clear, Microsoft's Surface team isn't writing off ARM or the 8-inch form-factor space.

Topics: Tablets, Microsoft, Mobility, ARM, PCs, Microsoft Surface, Windows 8


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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  • Surface Mini

    IPad mini isn't selling. With Phablets who needs a mini?
    • Says who?

      The iPad Air outsells the Retina Mini, but the Mini still sells pretty well considering its price point. There is a big difference between a 5.5" 16x9 phone and an 8" 4x3 or 3x2 tablet.
      • thank you.

        Some people hate Apple/Samsung/Microsoft/etc so much that they just constantly make dumb comments to try and make a point.
    • I have iPad Air and thought about getting a Surface or a mini even

      Now that I switched from Office 365 to Google Apps I bought a Chromebook instead on sale for $149. I thought I needed a mini tablet but I don't. Will upgrade to a phablet instead next cycle for ebooks and quick fixes I don't do on the Chromebook.

      Although Google Apps is free I subscribed to Google Apps enterprise for $50/person/year. I'm planning on switching my employees to Chrome OS and Google Apps sometime in the future. Even considering replacing desktops with Chromebox next upgrade cycle.

      Phablet, Chromebook and Chromebox with monitor covers the bases.
    • it's been my experience

      Anything under ten inches it's just a toy.
      • Toy

        People love toys.
  • Your sources outed?

    Maybe they were leaking the Mini story to some individuals in the company to see if it would leak to the press. And now they know who leaked it. A rare miss for Mary Jo...
  • Office

    I'd go with Office as the reason they didn't release the mini Surface yet. Ed Bott called the iPad version the gold standard right now. The Surface pro can run the full version. The mini can't, and so until its version of Office is touch optimized and indisputably better than the iPad version, then they shouldn't release the mini.
    • I'm totally with you.

      I have DV8P, which meets the need of Surface Mini and plus it runs on Intel processor, so if I could hook it to bigger screen and a BT keyboard and Mouse, I can run desktop apps in a brisk. I think Surface Mini will not be seen or heard until Gemini goes into beta, IMHO. I may be wrong too.
      Ram U
    • RT is the problem

      There is really no reason for any Surface to run ARMs. As others have noted, the Dell Venue 8 Pro shows that full Windows runs just fine on Baytrail and the battery is very acceptable.

      Personally if I were MS, I would relegate RT to the phone and the tablets to full Windows. The thinner and cheaper Surface should be Atom.
      Rann Xeroxx
      • Except that ...

        ... when Windows8 was under development, Intel were a long way away from having processors that were as power-efficient as ARM.

        Consider the Surface Pro v1 which could deliver around 3-4 hours in a single charge under moderate use. The Surface RT on the other hand delivers 6-7 hours.

        The Haswell-powered Surface Pro 2, lasts for 6-7 hours and the Tegra4-powered Surface 2 lasts 8-9 hours.

        Intel's BayTrain processors are also starting to get VERY competitive in terms of power consumption, often able to trade faster execution times and thus returning to dormancy more quickly vs. ARM processors that take longer to execute but consume less power while doing so.

        It was recently noted that it may well be easier for Intel to use its incredible engineering and manufacturing resources to get good x86/64 CPU performance within a particular power envelope than for ARM to deliver comparable execution perf' at the same power envelope.

        Intel got a real boot up the butt when Microsoft ported Windows proper to run on ARM. The results in Haswell and BayTrail are a great indicator of what can be done when competition is injected into an otherwise moderately stale marketplace ;)

        Can't wait to see where Intel go next. Really hoping they work on improving S3 resume speed and Connected Standby support in Core processors.
      • RT is Microsoft's only smart choice for mainstream tablets

        Windows 8 can never be a mainstream tablet product for the masses because it gets viruses. Say all that you want about how you haven't had a virus in 20 years, but there are plenty of people in my family who get malware constantly. Every time I visit I have to clean their PC for them. I'd love for all of them to move to tablets just so they stop getting themselves in trouble, but a Windows 8 tablet would have literally the exact same problems.
        • RT has outlived its usefullness

          Those people should just get iPads. Microsoft isn't making any money on Windows RT tablets, all of the OEMs have lost interest in it. Microsoft could lock down Windows 8 so nothing installs except from the Microsoft app store if that's the only problem. It's not worth the hassle of maintaining an ARM based OS. Windows RT served its purpose - cheap and battery efficient. Now that's not really needed anymore.
      • Not for me...

        I have the Surface 2 and a Dell Venue 11 Pro and I never touch the Dell. I do everything on the Surface and if I need full Windows, I RDP to my desktop. I did a full upgrade on my company's ERP system last weekend from home, on my Surface 2.

        I probably would use the Dell more, if it had a built-in kickstand, similar to the Surface, and a better keyboard, but the Surface kickstand and Type cover keep me using the Surface instead.
  • Who's need a Mini

    I'm glad they didn't release a mini.

    To me, Microsoft means 'productivity' and the Surface Pro 3 certainly appears to provide that. A mini would not! The mini would have appeared as though they were still playing catch-up in the tablet market.
    By announcing Surface Pro 3 today, it gets the jump on Apple's rumored 12" devices featuring 'multi-tasking' and shows Microsoft is on the cutting-edge of hardware design.

    Personally I think, a Phablet and a Surface Pro 3 is the ultimate combination.
    (although a pen might be nice with the Lumia 1520?)

    Suddenly Microsoft is looking 'exciting' again!
    • I'm with you on the reason why

      there was no mini announcement. And MJ picked it up as well, although I'm sure many of her colleagues won't. There was a reason Satya was there today: to show his backing of the devices part of the devices and services strategy and to assure the OEM's that the goal is not for Microsoft to compete with the OEMs but to do what they can't or won't. The OEMs are selling mini devices, but no one has really cracked the notebook/tablet combo yet. The Surface 3 comes as close as we've seen so far. MJ, I'm anxious to her your thoughts of your hands on experience.
    • All work and no play

      If Microsoft really wants to make work-only products then count me out. I think Metro apps on my DVP8 are wonderful and I genuinely have no need for Office on it, but if Microsoft really doesn't want me as a customer then I'm sure someone else will give me the entertainment products I want.
      • Play on the Surface

        I have a Surface RT and there is plenty to "Play" on it. But the nice thing is, when I get an email that has a document I need to edit and send back, I don't need to switch devices. If you don't need office, fine, don't use it but last time I checked the Microsoft Store there were more than enough game and other options to keep me interested. What entertainment products are you missing exactly?
    • I'm Glad

      ...that MS is looking exciting again for you because as a consumer it's not for me. What is exciting about a tablet that all ready existed in Pro and Pro 2. It's another logical upgrade and nothing more. I've wasted money on RT and WP8 and now I can't be productive because, regardless of what Mary Jo suspects, RT is dead. And so is my pocketbook for worthless things that are abandoned in a years time. Remember a large amount of revenue and sales does still come from the consumer sector, and it's forever lost - especially on me after this last announcement. Aside from my Windows 8 family of products that show less value every day, there's an old ipad2 here that is over 3 years old, a tablet, that still runs anything from it's app store... a macbook here also that's over 4 years old running Mavericks without a hitch. We wasted money on 2 Surfaces that are all ready dead and they are not even 2 years old yet - completely dead. I think for business obviously MS is the way to go, but for absolutely anything else, don't buy MS anything. I've invested 25 years into MS hardware and products but it's too costly to lay down any $ and pray I didn't make a mistake.
    • Can I have your pocket change?

      Are people who buys these millionaires?

      Surface Pro 3, is not for the masses, it is created to try and sway business. Problems, I see is that Microsoft wants to go subscription, not a good option for business. Most business have just switched or switching to Windows 7, or Linux, Windows 8 is left in the cold, and lastly it is over priced, when they can get the same functionality (except laptop positioning) out of a competitor.

      In the end, it is just another high priced gadget.