If Microsoft’s Surface Mini isn’t every bit as good as Apple’s iPad mini, I’m not sure they should even bother.
Apple’s tiny tablet isn’t perfect, but it is, without question, the best small tablet on the market. It offers the most elegant design, is highly responsive, has a high-resolution interface, boasts excellent battery life and has access to a world-class offering of apps. It’s so good that I now prefer the smaller tablet over its big brother, the iPad Air.
I always assumed I would miss the extra screen real estate on the smaller device, but with the mini carrying the exact same resolution as the Air, that’s simply not the case. The space savings and quarter-pound weight are nothing to sneeze at.
As Microsoft prepares to unveil its third major tablet offering next week, after the Microsoft Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, it needs to understand that "good enough" will not cut it in this space.
While there’s just as much competition in the full-sized tablet market, interest in 7-to-8-inch models is particularly intense. These consumers expect a size and elegance commensurate with a “mini” label.
If the Surface Mini looks just like the Surface 2, with the same grey or white color option, same sharp edges and a thickness built to accommodate a USB port, Microsoft will lose. Let’s hope the company understands that the Mini, much more so than the full-sized tablets, must be 100% a slab. Don't worry about slots, port and jacks beyond power and audio, Microsoft. Let your third-party friends do as they do for Apple and build more Bluetooth accessories. No cables or dongles required.
The aspect ratio should change as well.The aspect ratio should change as well. Microsoft built the original Surfaces to be almost 11 inches diagonally to accommodate the full-size snap-on keyboard. For the Surface RT (the first generation of the Surface 2), which I use quite often, this makes perfect sense. The Surface is truly a split-personality device with both a tablet interface and a traditional desktop served well by a keyboard and mouse.
At 8 inches (we assume), it will be too small for the full-width keyboard. If someone really wants to use a keyboard with the Surface Mini, let them use a Logitech Bluetooth model. They work wonderfully with the iPad mini.
If Microsoft is no longer building the Surface Mini with productivity in mind — or, at least as an equal partner with entertainment — then it can be designed as a true gaming, TV, movie and music consumption device with casual email and browsing included, just like the iPad mini.
It’s the only way Microsoft can build a no-compromise tablet that will attract the same people who are snapping up the iPad mini, Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire HDX.
This is not to say that productivity apps cannot or should not work on the Surface Mini, but Microsoft needs to make sure they all work in the Windows Design interface. Do not, I repeat, do not include a Windows Desktop or anything that looks like a traditional file system in this device.
Go full-on tablet and do not look back, Microsoft.Go full-on tablet and do not look back, Microsoft. No more half-measures like Surface 2. Again, it's a great tablet-esque device for Windows lovers, but you know I was disappointed your so-called redesign didn’t go further.
It’s also the perfect time for Microsoft to deliver something unexpected in this space. Based on recent sales numbers from Apple, the tablet market may be a bit saturated (but I really think consumers are just waiting for the next big thing). With the iPad Air and iPad mini being so polished, all that’s really left for Apple to do is work on the software. That means the door is open for disruption; a Microsoft device that is, essentially an 8-inch Windows Phone running Windows Phone 8.1. This is how you keep all vestiges of old-school Windows away for the Surface Mini.
For anyone who wants to get used to owning an 8-inch Surface, just grab a 5-inch Nokia Lumia Icon. It has a 5-inch display (just a few inches smaller than the Surface Mini should be), full HD and only lacks the ability to present its tiled home screen in landscape mode — an easy fix for the Surface Mini.
This is the path Microsoft. Do this and I’m certain you will thank me for it.