Tech wholesaler Vostrostone probably got a few angry calls from Redmond last night after the company listed a curious product on Amazon. The product itself isn’t very impressive, it’s a smart cover for a Microsoft Surface tablet.
However, according to the listing the cover only fits the “Microsoft Surface Mini tablet (For Surface Mini, Black).” The cover should be in stock on May 18, which means this the Surface Mini should launch on May 18 or close to it.
Surface Mini might give Redmond a fighting chance
Microsoft reported tablet revenue of $500 million for the last quarter. This means it sold a million or so tablets. To put the numbers in perspective, Apple sold 16.35 million iPads last quarter. It’s not going well for Microsoft, but then again the Surface was pronounced dead last year, yet it’s still around today and Microsoft is still introducing new products. Growth is slowing as tablets mature, so Microsoft may have missed the gravy train, but Windows 8.1 tablets are still seeing growth and they are quite popular in business circles.
So where does the Surface Mini fit in? It’s hard to say, as corporate users tend to buy Surface Pro tablets because of their legacy support, physical keyboard and top notch performance. However, we don’t know the Surface Mini spec yet and we don’t know how Microsoft plans to position it.
Intel, Nvidia or MediaTek?
Rumours of a 7.5- to 8-inch Surface Mini emerged last year, so there has been a lot of speculation and practically no facts. Even today, roughly a month away from the rumoured launch, we still don’t know the spec.
The Mini could even replace the ARM-based Surface 2, in which case it should end up with an ARM chipset. Microsoft used Nvidia’s Tegra SoC in the first two generations of its ARM-based tablets. The leaked date roughly coincides with Nvidia’s Tegra K1 rollout schedule, as the chipmaker is expected to have the first parts on the market in the first half of 2014, at least that is the official line.
However, if Redmond is gunning for a lower price point, the company may choose an alternative chipset. Rumours of a possible Microsoft – MediaTek deal have been floating around for weeks, but it’s hard to say whether there’s any truth to them.
On the other hand Intel has been aggressively pushing its Bay Trail-T parts, so Microsoft could get some nice x86 silicon on the cheap. A Bay Trail Surface would make sense. The Surface Pro uses Intel’s big cores – the current model is based on U-series Haswell parts. A smaller x86 Surface based on a smaller Intel chip sounds like a nice addition to the Surface line-up. There are already a number of sub-$299 Windows 8.1 tablets based on Bay Trail-T parts and most of them tend to be 8-inchers.