A Microsoft Surface RT Mini could work, here's why

Chase Bonar
 from  Winter Springs, FL
| Published: May 17, 2013

As the tablet market matures, many manufacturers across varying operating systems are vying for a share of the pie, and no matter your OS preference, there are varying screen sizes beckoning you. Well, that is if you prefer Android and iOS to tablets running Windows RT or the full-suite of Windows in a tablet form factor around the 10-inch mark.

However, according to Digitimes, Microsoft could be readying the second coming of Surface RT tablets in the more manageable (and popular) 8-inch form factor.

Many OEM's have sought market share in the 7 to 8-inch display size range, and I feel it strikes a balance larger devices struggle with. Portability is a true differentiator when it comes to tablets, and if there's anything we've learned so far in the tablet market it's that consumers will choose tablets strictly based on size.

But up until this point, size didn't matter to Microsoft which could have masked the true potential of Microsoft's hand in the tablet market.

Apple released the iPad Mini with a display just under 8-inches to a stellar reception due in part to varying storage capacities and optional LTE. It's doing so well, in fact, that Apple decided it was worth stealing sales from its larger iPad variants to save face against the tablet market at this form factor. Similarly, Samsung offers the Galaxy Note 8.0 with a stylus and expandable storage, and in some countries, the Note 8.0 can be used as a cell phone. And then there's the Nexus 7 which undercuts both the iPad Mini and Galaxy Note 8.0 on price, but offers few options for storage capacities, and no expandable storage. Still, at $199, Google set the bar high for tablet value.

It's these sort of options which Microsoft needs to consider with a Surface around the 8-inch form factor for them to "fall in line" with the success of tablets of this size.

Yet size would only be half the equation if the Digitimes report is to be taken seriously seeing that it also outlined a $249-$299 starting price. If true, Microsoft may have a bombshell on its hands seeing that Windows RT features a full office suite of productivity applications which, for better or worse, allow you to use your tablet more like a stand-alone laptop, something competing tablets struggle with. With expandable storage and LTE capability, it would undercut the iPad Mini and the Galaxy Note 8.0.

I'm pretty excited for a Microsoft Surface RT in the 8-inch ballpark around the $300 price point. For starters, it means Microsoft has learned from competitors. Devices which are tiered by display size and high specced internals attract different buyers. When Microsoft first brought the Surface RT and Surface Pro to market, many found the $499 and $899 price points to be a bit too much to handle. Much to the average tablet user's expectations that tablets are "consumption devices only", Windows RT continued to challenge that mentality. Unfortunately, there were strings attached.

First, as stated, price deterred buyers, and seeing that the tablet experience had not been central to productivity, the Surface lineup failed to identify with buyers looking to actually do something with their tablet instead of playing Angry Birds. There has been a lack of adoption of the Surface tablets as devices which would replace traditional laptops, and seeing that Microsoft touts Windows RT and Windows 8 as a true productivity platforms, this was a hurdle Microsoft is failing to market. Then there was the issue of Windows RT's on-board storage which was halved by the OS itself - 32GB available straight out of the box quickly turned into 16GB and many were less than thrilled at Microsoft's "false advertising". On top of all this, Microsoft is the sole distributor of Surface tablets which has limited the potential for buyers. 

Now, a smaller tablet takes on an entirely new approach to the marketplace. Microsoft's main obstacle is the Windows experience on the tablet form factor. Where I do not view it as a hindrance, I find it to be very rewarding especially with a full suite of Office applications on the anchored version of Windows RT, many have failed to identify with Microsoft's Metro UI and the benefits of Surface tablets as productivity devices. Pair this with a single display size of 10.1-inches and you're beginning to see how a sub-$300 8-inch Surface RT tablet could slot right in.

Microsoft needs to offer expandable storage with all of its tablets, or shrink the underlying OS. Maybe they should even consider Windows Phone 8 on the Surface RT Mini. The smaller Surface also needs to attack a specific niche market, not create one like it did with the full-size Surface lineup. I long for a large-screened smartphone running Windows Phone 8, or Windows RT. Yet a tablet priced below $300 could face the very same fate as the original Surface RT if Microsoft doesn't learn from its shortcomings. Make it different, Microsoft. Add variants with mobile connectivity, or a stylus out of the box. Create value, and please, play this one safe. It could really work this time.

Would you be interested in a Microsoft Surface tablet with an 8-inch display? How should Microsoft market this sort of device? What would it need for you to consider it?

Image via Extremetech.