One device we didn't get a taste of this week when Microsoft introduced its new Surface tablets was the rumored Surface Mini. Now with the revamped Nexus 7 on the market and Amazon's 7 inch Kindle Fire HDX and revamped Kindle Fire HD on the way, the heat is on for Microsoft to produce its own branded solution. Yet, looking back, the Redmond company may be focused on fixing past mistakes before tackling a smaller form factor.
There's now talk from sources that the device won't make an appearance until spring 2014, packed with an update to Windows RT 8.1 called "Spring 2014 GDR," AKA General Distribution Release. Microsoft is reportedly finalizing its third GDR for Windows Phone 8, which will add 1080p support and the ability to run the OS on larger 5 inch to 6 inch devices. Thus the release of this tablet will be aligned with the "Blue" release of Windows Phone 8, although Microsoft may not go with the "8.1" label. This will be the biggest update since Windows Phone 8 rolled out in Fall 2012.
Getting back to the Surface Mini, the tablet will obviously use an ARM-based chip (and likely Tegra 4 like the Surface 2) given that it will ship with Windows RT 8.1. Past rumors have speculated that the size will be between 7 inches and 8 inches, and that Microsoft may actually market this smaller tablet as an Xbox Surface device, hoping to cash in on the Xbox One launch aftermath. That could be another reason why the tablet won't show up until next year.
The interesting tidbit here is that the Surface Mini tablet is expected to arrive when the Windows Phone 8.1 update rolls out in the Spring. This is also the speculated timeframe for the Surface 2 with 4G LTE support, as well as the Metro-style "Gemini" apps for Office 2013. And with Nokia's Devices and Services division now marching into the Redmond officer, it's hard not to wonder if Microsoft has plans for a huge ARM-based assault in Spring 2014. Nokia's ARM-based "Sirius" tablet and "Bandit" phablet fit somewhere into those plans too.
Several sources have stated that the Surface Mini's "delay" is tied to the Xbox One. Microsoft's Executive Vice President of Operating Systems Terry Myerson is supposedly working overtime to get the console's OS completed, and has reassigned some of the Windows developers to help get the Xbox One OS finalized. The OS division's schedule is reportedly to get Windows 8.1 released to the public, complete the Xbox One, and complete Windows Phone 8.1 (aka GDR3).
Recently during a financial analyst meeting, Myerson revealed that the OS team's ultimate goal is to have one silicon interface, one set of APIs, one core cloud service, and a tailored experience for each form factor. He mentioned that phones will eventually extend into tablets, indicating that Microsoft may be shooting for using the same OS on ARM-based devices no matter their form factor.
"We have two very important chipset families in everything we're doing in all of our devices, and that's x86 and ARM," he said. "The ARM devices in particular in phones have incredible share given their battery life and the connectivity options available with the system-on-a-chip ecosystem. Windows RT was our first ARM tablet. And as phones extend into tablets, expect us to see many more ARM tablets, Windows ARM tablets in the future."
Be sure to check out all our Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 coverage from this week:
- Surface 2: A Look at the Hardware Inside
- Surface Type Cover 2: Thinner and Sensitive Under Pressure
- Microsoft Surface 2: We Go Hands On
- Microsoft Surface 2 Event Live Blog
- Microsoft Surface Pro 2: We Go Hands On
- Here's the UK Pricing for Microsoft's New Surface Tablets
- Microsoft Announces Two New Surface 2 Tablets
- Microsoft Announces New Touch Covers, Power Cover and Dock