On April 25, 2014, Amazon listed a cover for sale for a Microsoft Surface Mini. Microsoft has made no official announcement about the device, the product specs, or the impending release date, but Amazon displays the availability date of the cover case as May 18, 2014. The availability of the cover suggests the official release date of the Surface Mini.
Microsoft is taking a page from Apple marketing where no details about the new product have been either confirmed or denied. What seems to be known is that the new smaller tablet will be about 8 inches and will have a built in active digitizer. Given the small footprint, a Surface Mini will likely be best suited to a reading and note taking device. The active digitizer and stylus pen will likely create a very smooth and efficient writing surface that will be well suited to annotating digital text, and free form handwriting for notes. These functions are very important to students, but it is likely not enough in today’s crowded tablet market.
Writing on tablet screens has been mostly a cumbersome experience on tablets that do not have a built in active digitizer. Writing on a tablet with a capacitive touch screen is slow, inaccurate, and above all, not natural. It is ok for limited notes and annotations, but not for any extended use. A major strength of the Surface Pro 2 is that it offers an active digitizer, so including similar functionality in the Surface Mini is a very good idea in principle.
The processor that will power the Surface Mini will be a major consideration. If it has a low power processor running the RT version of Windows, the Surface Mini will not support legacy Windows software. The current selection of RT apps is comparatively very limited, which for students will be a major obstacle. It is also unknown if the Surface Mini will include a version of Office. Whether it does or not is probably more of a moot point as working on Office with an 8 inch screen is a tedious affair.
The speculation about price is that it will rival the iPad Mini, and cost somewhere around $399. For an RT device that might support a limited number of available software apps, and would be primarily for reading and notes, the value of the Surface Mini for students would likely be relegated to an augmentation device. That won’t set the market ablaze with demand. Students generally seek a single device that can address a range of educational uses and learning needs, which includes software and apps. If the Surface Mini comes with an Intel processor that is capable of running legacy Windows programs, and comes complete with Office, there could be some interest in educational circles, but still would likely be limited.
Microsoft has elected to remain silent, so all one can do is continue to speculate. However, given the Amazon release date of May 18, 2014 for the Surface Mini cover, it seems the details will be known very shortly.