Microsoft's upcoming Surface Mini: A killer at the right price?

Microsoft is expected to unveil its Surface Mini tablet later this month, and it could well be the missing link that the company needs to finally make inroads into the tablet market. But will Microsoft price it to sell?

Bloomberg reports that Microsoft will introduce the Surface Mini at a press event in New York on May 20. The small tablet, Bloomberg says, will be powered by a Qualcomm processor rather than the current Nvidia ARM-based chip.

Details are scarce, but The Verge reports that it may run Windows RT rather than full-blown Windows, and that it will have a 7.5-inch 1440 x 1080 display with a 4:3 aspect ratio. That means its screen would not be like the existing Surface line, and would be more like the iPad.

Two weeks ago, the electronics wholesaler Vostrostone (VSTN) posted a listing for what appears to be a Surface Mini case on Amazon, as you can see below, although there's no way to verify its accuracy.

surface_mini_teaser.jpg

Largely depending on its pricing, the Mini may be a boom or a bust. Many Windows 8 tablets that have sold well have been productivity tablets that can do double duty as ultraportables, like the Surface Pro 2. But with a 7.5-inch screen, the Mini is not going to be a productivity tablet, especially if it runs RT, which can't run the desktop or desktop-based software.

If Microsoft can seriously undercut the iPad Mini, though, and match or beat inexpensive Android tablets, it could well succeed. The iPad Mini starts at $299, so the Surface Mini had better be well under that. Google's Nexus 7 starts at $229. If Microsoft can beat that price, even by $10, it may well have a winner on its hands. The Windows brand is still worth something, and a tablet priced just above $200 could do well.

A recent IDC tablet survey found that although Windows tablets have been struggling to gain market share, there is a potential bright side for Microsoft: Tablets that are "good enough" and at the right price. IDC's Jitesh Ubrani, Research Analyst, Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker, had this to say:

"Although its share of the market remains small, Windows devices continue to gain traction thanks to sleeper hits like the Asus T100, whose low cost and 2-in-1 form factor appeal to those looking for something that's "good enough."

The Surface Mini won't have a 2-in-1 form factor, but it's almost certainly going to be "good enough." And it's rumored to have a stylus as well, which would be a selling point on an inexpensive tablet.

So will the Mini be a hit? If priced right, it could be. If priced wrong, it won't make a dent in the market.

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