Surface Mini: On the way, but at what price?

By Kip Kniskern | In News | Posted May 6, 2014 7 comments

Yesterday Microsoft sent out invitations to “a small event” in New York City on May 20th, and word on the street is that the company will finally be announcing a smaller version of the Surface. From what we’re gathering from the rumors swirling out there, Satya Nadella will preside at the event, which is expected to not only introduce a 7 to 8″ member of the Surface family, but perhaps another, as yet unknown, version of the Surface, too. The smaller device is expected to be based on an ARM chip, meaning that it will be running Windows RT, and is widely expected to ship with a stylus, positioning the device as a note-taker.

Rumors have long been swirling about a smaller Surface, and when the Surface 2 experienced production problems and went missing from the shelves late last year, speculation was that those same production problems held back the “Surface Mini”. Brad Sams over at Neowin isn’t so sure, and has been hearing that the delay of a Surface Mini launch was a “business decision”, rather than a supply chain one. Still, Microsoft has been experiencing its share of growing pains in transitioning to a devices and services company, scrambling to build a supply chain while facing intense competition all up and down that chain from the likes of Apple.

Last year, after introducing the Surface in a rare genuine surprise of an announcement (and a rare marketing win and one that may have been Steven Sinofsky’s last great act of control freakishness), the company was forced to write down almost a billion dollars as the overpriced devices failed to take off in the market. Of course “overpriced” is a relative term, as by being late once again to the party, Microsoft simply couldn’t price the newcomer devices at a price that would make them money and still work its way into the market. Instead of exceeding expectations with a great introductory price and shaking up the market, Microsoft let the bean counters dictate a price that pleased no one but those bean counters themselves, and ended up having to write down the loss. Microsoft would have lost money either way, but ended up looking like losers instead of market leaders.

Now, some 6 months after the target launch or so and a holiday cycle again lost, here comes the Surface Mini, arriving just as tablet sales are slowing down. There’s nothing about a pen-enabled mini Surface that fills any particular need any mass consumer audience feels, and nothing to say that while a Surface Mini should fit well into the Surface family, it will sell any better than any other Surface. Nothing, except perhaps a killer price. Could Microsoft price its way into a bit of a positive bump for the Surface? Even that’s iffy, but we’re about to find out how committed new CEO Satya Nadella is to his “challenger mentality”.

Posted May 6th, 2014 at 10:58 am
Category: News
Tags: Surface
  • ralph richardson

    Not a good idea at all. I have a Dell Venue Pro 7, which is running full windows 8 32bit and I can tell everyone that while it is nice having full blown windows 8 on a tablet, its hard to get much done on such a small screen (8 inches). Also, some desktop games wont display properly on the screen. Just giving my two cents………

    • Paul

      You point out all the reasons why full-blown Win8 won’t work, but none of those reasons would apply to WinRT. It’ll be a competitor to the likes of Nexus 7 & Galaxy Note 7

  • Steeple

    The price?

    Probably in the range of ‘too much’.

    • cybersaurusrex

      The reality is that, unless it’s an Apple product, most people won’t pay more than $199 for a tablet… and many want to pay LESS. And this is okay for them because they really only want a tablet to surf the web.

      For those who want a “productivity tablet” then there are Windows tablets… unfortunately, so far, most people don’t seem to think they need one. Perhaps businesses will see the value in them. I think that’s Microsoft’s last best hope.

  • cybersaurusrex

    This statement from the article is SO true: “Microsoft let the bean counters dictate a price that pleased no one but those bean counters themselves, and ended up having to write down the loss. Microsoft would have lost money either way, but ended up looking like losers instead of market leaders.”

    Had Microsoft just priced the Surface at a loss from the beginning… to grab attention… to cause excitement… to grab market share… and disrupt the market… things would’ve, could’ve and should’ve been so much different. Instead, they priced it at a premium… and no one (but a few of us) bought it and so it looked like a big flop… and then they ended up discounting it in the end anyway… but by then it looked like a failure. It was a HUGE miscalculation that A LOT of us foresaw from the beginning. They should’ve used the early Xbox strategy (sell at a loss) instead of the failed Zune strategy (sell at a premium). So it’s not surprising that they’re getting a Zune result.

    Is it too late to turn it around? I don’t know. But things could’ve, should’ve, would’ve been so much different had it had a better launch.

    • Iain Simpson

      Microsoft at that time had to suck up to oems that were complaining about pricing. They really don’t or should not do that anymore, I would say to Microsoft to price it to get the attention they deserve and screw the oems, make the PC and tablet business their own.

  • Paul

    The Surface Mini will compete in the same market as the Nexus 7 or Galaxy Note 7. Currently, while there are small full-blown Win8 tablets, they don’t compete with the Nexus 7 and what not due to form factor. Those small tablet PCs are too thick, heavy, and have too low of a battery life to compete with something like the Nexus 7. Now, if a device needed to only run WinRT, then it can overcome those hurdles. A small form factor, thin Windows tablet with great battery life is definitely a good idea.