Does Microsoft have a Surface Mini in the works? If so, it's certainly living up to its name as after all the hype, rumors and guesswork, the company's elusive smaller slate is still nowhere to be found.
That said, we wouldn't bet against one rearing its head soon. According to Microsoft's latest financial report, the company's Surface revenue increased more than 50 per cent during the first quarter of 2014, and it would make sense to build on the Surface Pro 3's momentum with a smaller companion model soon.
One area where a Surface Mini could excel that's been central to the product line's appeal is productivity. From the start, all Surface tablets have come with excellent keyboard accessories, a chunk of free OneDrive cloud storage and a free copy of Office Home & 2013, giving any new product a solid base to build on.
No small task
But let's not get carried away: even with the Surface Pro 3 let loose into the wild, Microsoft still has its work cut out - and then some. A need to diversify the Surface product line to include devices smaller than the 10.6-inch category is still important for the company to remain competitive.
Apple has enjoyed a lengthy head start with its iPad Mini and iPad Mini 2 with Retina tablets, which now run Microsoft's capable Office for iPad suite. Even Microsoft's own hardware partners including Acer, Toshiba and Dell and Lenovo have been putting out 8-inch devices running full-fat Windows 8 for almost a year at a price that by far undercut even the cheapest Surface on the market.
The question is: what areas will Microsoft focus the Surface Mini's strengths? Will it go down the predicted productivity route, or could it throw a curveball by outing a miniature rottweiler of a gaming and entertainment machine?
Surface Mini release date
Microsoft invited guests to a "small gathering" back in May, prompting many to think that the Surface Mini was about to land. It was, in fact, something of a curveball, as the event was used to unveil the Surface Pro 3.
So what happened to it? According to a source that spoke to Neowin, Microsoft pulled the plug at the last minute out of fears that it would not sell, despite having produced between 15,000 and 20,000 units.
Rhoda Alexander, director of IHS Technology's monitor and tablet research, told CNET that she had seen orders of smaller displays (pegged at 7.5 inches) spike in the fall of last year and between March and April this year, totaling well over 100,000.
According to a report by DigiTimes published on June 30, Microsoft called off a plan to mass produce the device because of "fierce competition in the small-size segment, as well as negative responses from its brand vendor clients". That's according to sources from the supply chain side, who told the site that plans to start mass production in May were scrapped, and that the device may not make it to market at all.
Other rumours paint a brighter future for the Surface Mini. A source that spoke to Neowin claims that Microsoft is waiting for a touch-based version of Office (codenamed Gemini) to arrive, which some say is expected to launch later this year. That (sort of) falls in line with a claim by tech tipster @evleaks, which reckons that the device has rolled back onto the production line and will see a summer release.
ZDNet columnist Mary Jo Foley isn't quite so optimistic. Foley predicts that Microsoft's Gemini apps will in fact appear later in Spring 2015, pushing the Surface Mini's release date into next year - should it appear at all.
By the time we see the Surface Mini launch, it may even arrive with Windows 8.2.1, also known as Windows 8.1 Update 2, which would also pitch the device as due to arrive in the fall.
Previously, reports had pegged a suggested date of May 18 for the Surface Mini reveal after an Amazon product listing for a case appeared online. Posted by electronics wholesale Vostrostone (VSTN), the listing, which is still online, says that the case as "Specifically designed cutouts for Microsoft Surface Mini tablet". Whether it's the real deal is yet to be seen, but it certainly sounds convincing.
As picked up by GeekWire, Microsoft has already launched a 7-inch tablet running Windows 8.1. Sort of. As revealed at Computex 2014, Redmond worked hand-in-hand with Intel and Toshiba to co-develop the Encore 7 slate. Toshiba is an early adopter of the new Windows 8.1 with Bing OS, and GeekWire sees the device's release as Microsoft getting a small slate out of its system until the Surface Mini is ready to land.
Surface Mini specs
Microsoft's more powerful Surface tablet, the Surface Pro 2, is a little thicker than the Surface 2 due to housing higher-powered Intel Core-series chips, so it would take some feat of engineering to pack similar power into an even smaller, more portable Surface.
As such, it's more likely that the Surface Mini will pack an less powerful Intel Bay Trail CPU, which would allow it to run full-fat Windows 8.1 without being a bloater. That's a likely possibility in the view of Chinese website WPDang, which reckons an ARM-based version running Windows RT may also be in the works.
Until the Surface Pro 3 rocked the boat with its 3:2 aspect ratio, previous Surface devices came with 16:9, so it's possible that a Surface Mini could follow suit. Neowin, on the other hand, reckons that it'll feature a 7-inch, 1440 x 1080 pixel-resolution display toting the 4:3 aspect ratio that's found on Apple's iPads.
When rumours of a Surface Mini first emerged, talk centered around the possibility of a 7-inch Xbox Surface tablet. According to a leaked document, the new tablet would feature a 1280 x 720 pixel resolution display, which seems a little low considering competing eight-inch devices have offered a slightly higher 1200 x 800 pixel-resolution throughout the past year.
Surface Mini software
In term of software, will the Surface Mini run full-fat Windows 8, or its much-maligned cousin, Windows RT? Many will be hoping for the former, but we're not brave enough to completely rule out a return of the operating system that seemingly refuses to die. (Hey there, Nokia Lumia 2520.)
Whichever version of Windows it rocks, the Surface Mini is reportedly going to land as a note-taking device, according to Neowin, which reckons that it'll come with proper pen support using something like the Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2's Wacom digitizer.
It's possible that the Surface Mini could feature the same digital pen technology as the Surface Pro 3, which uses technology by N-Trig and is as close to drawing on paper as you wiil experience on glass, according to Microsoft. It can also launch the OneNote Metro app within a second of touching the display, a feature that would make even more sense on a smaller Surface due to its portability.
It's also possible that the Surface Mini could take advantage of the Xbox's Kinect-like motion capture tech. Sure, Windows 8's Charms and touch-sensitive commands work better on smaller devices, but they're no substitute for a keyboard and mouse, and the ability to control the OS using your limbs may go some way to helping out.
According to WPDang, the Suface Mini will track face and hand movements using gesture-based controls similar to those found on the Samsung Galaxy S4, which will let you swipe through screens using your hand movements and dims the screen when not being looked at.
Surface Mini price
It would make sense for Microsoft to follow Apple's lead by pricing the Surface Mini at a lower cost than its larger Surface models, much as the Cupertino-based company did with the iPad Mini.
Eight-inch tablets running Windows 8 initially hovered around the £340 mark but have dropped considerably in the past year. Acer's Iconia W4 now costs in the region of £240, and Dell's Venue 8 Pro starts at £249, and Lenovo's Miix 2 starts at the same.
The good news is that even if Microsoft does load Windows 8 onto the Surface Mini, it won't likely be doing so at a premium (compared with Windows RT). The company announced in April that it'll be offering Windows 8.1 with devices under nine inches for free, which means you won't be paying a premium to experience full-fat Windows.
Cheaper seems to be the way Microsoft is leaning with Windows devices anyway (Surface Pro 3 aside). In early June, during Computex 2014, Microsoft Vice President of OEM Partners Nick Parker told the Wall Street Journal consumers should prepare for the firm to "reach price points there are very industry competitive" for 7-, 8- and 10-inch devices. Though Parker was certainly speaking to Microsoft's OEM partners, we wouldn't be surprised if the Surface Mini follows in low-price suit.