What happened to the much-rumoured Surface Mini?

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3. (Microsoft)

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3. (Microsoft)

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, Last Updated: 5:39 PM ET

A smaller 8-inch Microsoft tablet had been tipped to be revealed during the company's special event on Tuesday, the invitation sent out to the press even carried the phrase "a small gathering" yet the Surface Mini was nowhere to be seen.

Instead, Microsoft unveiled only the Surface Pro 3, a slim-line laptop replacement with a 12-inch HD display. But that doesn't necessarily mean that a smaller Surface wasn't also in development and scheduled for launch on the same bill. After all, specifications have been steadily leaking out of Microsoft about the device over the past 12 months.


Images from the Surface Pro 3 launch

According to a report in Bloomberg, the tablet was axed in the 11th hour because "Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella and Executive Vice President Stephen Elop decided that the product in development wasn't different enough from rivals and probably wouldn't be a hit." Yet, according to unidentified sources quoted in the piece, "Engineers had been working on the device and had planned to unveil it as early as today at an event in New York."

Although growth in the tablet market is already beginning to slow, smaller sub-10-inch devices -- i.e., tablets like the iPad Mini and Nexus 7 -- are proving the most popular products. What's more, according to ABI Research's latest report, published on May 15, demand is actually increasing for devices with integrated 3G and 4G/LTE modems. In all, 2% of the 41.3 million tablets that shipped over the first quarter of 2014 did so with 3G or 4G/LTE on board, which, ABI claims is the highest percentage since 2011.

Rumoured to sport an 8-inch screen and a Qualcomm chip with integrated 3G/4G support, the Surface Mini could have ticked a lot of boxes with the tablet-buying public.

However, the device was expected to run Windows RT rather than the full version of Windows. And that operating system has proven to be a big turn-off with consumers.

Tablets that use it (and there are now only two in production -- the Surface 2 and the Nokia Lumia 2520) are restricted to running specially developed Windows RT apps. They may come preloaded with Office but are unable to run existing software or apps written for the full version of the Windows operating system.

The latest data from online advertising network Chitika Insights, published to coincide with the Microsoft Surface launch on Tuesday, show that in the U.S. and Canada, the company's share of the tablet market is falling. In fact, based on web traffic, the Surface Pro and Surface 2's share has dropped from 7.5% to 6.7% just between February and May of this year.

"Surface tablet users generated a marginally decreasing share of U.S. and Canadian non-iPad tablet Web traffic as we moved through late Q1 and early Q2," reports Chitika. "This trend follows substantial usage share growth for the device family during the latter half of 2013, when Surface's non-iPad usage share went from 3.3% in June, to 5.7% in September, to nearly 8% leading into last holiday season."

Chitika does add one caveat to its findings: that because the tablets are focused on productivity and come with Office pre-installed, then there's a good chance they're being used offline, like computers, rather than online like other tablets.

Either way, the company's report concludes that Microsoft still has a lot to do if it wants to take a bigger share of the tablet market: "It's clear that Microsoft has its work cut out for it in terms of improving adoption of Surface tablets along with keeping users engaged with the device over the long term."

The Surface Pro 3 with its Apple-like levels of attention to detail and notebook levels of performance could be a good start. It's a serious product and comes at a premium -- the entry-level model will cost $799 and a top-specification model with an Intel core i7 processor, 8 GB of RAM and a 512 GB hard drive will cost $1949.

But axing the RT version of its operating system, its limitations and the confusion it is causing among consumers could also help.


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