Microsoft introduced the Surface Pro 3 tablet this week and started taking pre-orders for the 12 inch tablet for $799 and up. But many industry watchers had expected the company to unveil a Surface mini tablet with a smaller display at the same time.
That didn’t happen. Reports suggest a smaller Surface tablet was in development, but that its launch was cancelled at the last minute due to concerns that it wouldn’t be a competitive device.
Now Neowin reports that Microsoft went as far as producing an initial batch of tablets before deciding to cancel or postpone the launch. As many as 15-to-20 thousand Surface mini tablets could be sitting in a warehouse somewhere.
The Surface mini that was in development was expected to feature a 7 or 8 inch screen, a Qualcomm Snapdragon ARM-based processor, and Windows RT software, OneNote, and a digital pen.
It’s possible Microsoft scrapped the launch plans after looking at the sea of small, cheap tablets including the iPad mini, Dell Venue 8 Pro, and Lenovo Miix 2. It’s also possible the company is waiting until it can merge Windows RT with Windows Phone, allowing Windows tablets with ARM chips to run the same software available for smartphones.
Neowin explores the theory suggested by one of their reliable tipsters that Microsoft is waiting until it’s ready to launch a touch-friendly version of Microsoft Office. In other words, those Surface mini tablets sitting in a warehouse might only need a software update before they’re ready to go.
Microsoft offers Office 2013 Home & Student software for free to makers of Windows 8.1 and Windows RT devices with small screens. But it’s tough to actually use the software unless you have a mouse, keyboard, and a screen that’s about 10 inches or larger because Windows was designed for use on larger devices. It has tiny menus, icons, and other elements that can be hard to interact with using just your fingers or even a digital pen.
The company already has touch-friendly versions of Office for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone… but not for Windows RT. It’s possible that once that software’s ready to go, the existing Surface mini devices will come out of the vault… if their hardware isn’t obsolete by then.