Can Microsoft's new Mini tablet save the Surface?

It looks as if Microsoft's long-rumored Surface Mini may finally be on the verge of being released. Can the small tablet help save the Surface line, or will it be too little, too late?

There's reason to believe that the Mini may be released in May, thanks to photos that electronics wholesaler Vostrostone (VSTN) posted on Amazon for a case that it will be selling for the device. The listing says it will be available May 18, and says that the case has "Specifically designed cutouts for Microsoft Surface Mini tablet." The listing is still up and hasn't been pulled, which certainly makes it sound as if it's the real thing. Keep in mind that this is a listing for a case, not the Mini itself. Still, there's no reason for anyone to sell a case until the Mini itself is available.

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At this point there's not much information available about the Mini, such as whether it will have a 7-inch screen or an 8-inch one, for example, or whether it will be ARM-based. However, several rumors say it will ship with a stylus, like its larger Surface Pro 2 relative.

How much a difference will the Mini make for the Surface line? To a great extent, that depends on the device's price more than its specs. The Surface Pro 2's biggest selling point is that it's a productivity tablet, particularly when paired with the Surface's keyboard covers. That makes the Surface Pro 2 an ultraportable PC as much as it's a tablet. In fact, I use mine more as an ultraportable than I do as a tablet.

But can a 7-inch or 8-inch tablet do double-duty as an ultraportable PC? Not really. The screen is simply too small. That makes price all the more important for the Mini. People are willing to pay top dollar for a tablet that also works like an ultraportable. But they won't be willing to pay top dollar for merely a small tablet.

The iPad Mini's starting price is $299. If the Surface Mini's price comes in at close to that, it's not likely to have much of a chance to succeed. Google's Nexus 7 starts at $229. The Surface Mini needs to match that price, or better yet, undercut it.

So will the Surface Mini help the Surface line succeed? Only if the price is right. Here's one example where size doesn't necessarily matter.

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