Microsoft sent invitations on May 5, 2014 to a select group of media agents for a gathering the New York on May 20, 2014. So it’s now official there is going to be some kind of major announcement. What that announcement is remains conjecture. However, the consensus is the announcement of a Surface Mini tablet, and perhaps more. Given the availability of a Surface Mini case on Amazon.com, the Surface Mini seems a certainty.
There is much speculation about the platform, but ZDNET.com has weighed in and thinks the RT platform is the choice. The tablet will also likely have a Wacom digitizer and pen for note taking as does the Surface Pro tablet. The display is reportedly 8 inches and optimized for note taking, which would be good for students. But the lingering issue remains if this kind of tablet is really going to be of interest to schools or students, given the screen size and probable price point. There is nothing but speculation about the price, but around $400 seems to be the expectation.
If everything is true about the RT platform, screen size, and digitizer, could this device gain traction in education? It could possibly if the price was right. A circa $200 price point would likely make this device much more attractive. To date, 8 inch tablets have not really gained much traction in education, simply because the screen surface is too small to work on comfortably for anything but brief periods. Whether the note taking feature is enough to justify a smaller tablet remains to be seen. The need for an active digitizer to support note taking and text annotation is a major need and want for students, but a larger screen makes a tablet more useful, particularly when using software applications.
Using software brings us to the next major hurdle. The RT platform does have a large number of apps, but only a fraction of what Apple or Android comparatively offers. In education, there is a market desire for apps, and too many apps that are available on iOS or Android are simply not available on RT. If Microsoft can convince software publishers to build apps for RT, things could change, but for now, it’s slow going. The lack of apps turns off many schools and students.
There is no information if Office will be included in a tablet mini version. The Surface 2 includes an RT version of Office, so this is possible. But even so, with the small screen, and no keyboard, using Office would be cumbersome. If a keyboard touch cover was available on a mini, the typing experience would likely be too cramped to be very productive. Therefore, on the software front, a Surface mini seems to already suffer from some concerns.
It is a great thing that Microsoft continues to push the idea of an active digitizer in tablets such as the Surface Pro 2. All tablets for use in education should include an active digitizer to support notes and annotating text. Why an active digitizer in not available on the RT version of the Surface 2 is unknown, but probably cost related. Microsoft needs to find a way to work the active digitizers into all tablets, at a price that schools and students can afford. If they can do this, the Surface tablets could become a real factor in the educational space.
More will surely be known come May 20, 2014. Stay tuned.