Microsoft's late to the mini tablet market, but still has a shot at sales
Analysts don't expect a Surface Mini to compete with Android tablets on price, but Microsoft could make it stand out by touting it as a note taker
Computerworld - Microsoft may be boarding the small tablet bus later than rivals, but it's not missed the connection entirely, analysts said today.
According to several online reports, Microsoft will introduce a smaller-screen Surface on May 20 at an invite-only event in New York City. Dubbed "Surface Mini" in lieu of an official moniker, the device is expected to sport an 8-in. screen, come with a stylus, and be promoted primarily as a digital note taker.
Smaller tablets will continue to account for the majority of tablets shipped in each of the next five years, but their share of the total will continue to shrink as they face pressure from larger-sized smartphones, said Jitesh Ubrani, an analyst with IDC. Consumers who buy a bigger smartphone -- one with a screen 5-in. or larger -- are much less likely to make a second purchase of a 7-in. or 8-in. tablet.
Even though Microsoft will be entering the 8-in. or smaller tablet market later than competitors -- more than three-and-a-half years after Samsung started selling the Galaxy Tab and 18 months after Apple debuted the iPad Mini -- and the sales explosion of that segment is already in the past, a petite Surface is still a good idea.
"It's important to have something at the smaller screen size," said Ubrani of Microsoft and its portfolio. "Price matters to many tablet buyers and smaller tablets are simply cheaper."
"In our data, it is clear that consumers are choosing small when it is considerably cheaper," echoed Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. "They use it for content and they tend to share it more with other members of the family."
How low Microsoft will go is unknown -- it will presumably reveal pricing at the New York event -- but because Surface is touted as a premium line and because Microsoft would need to turn a profit on the hardware, some are skeptical that the company can compete on price.
"I think [a Surface Mini] would remain in the $249-$299 range," speculated Sameer Singh, an independent analyst whose Tech-Thoughts website specializes in mobile technologies. "I don't think Microsoft can afford to compete with low-end Android and 'white box' manufacturers on price."
That price range is in the same ballpark as the much more established first generation iPad Mini -- which lists for $299 -- and significantly higher than most top-tier Android tablets in the 7- to 8-in. format.
The latest Surface Mini scuttlebutt claimed that Microsoft will position it as a note-taking device, differentiating the tablet from the glut of cheap tablets used almost exclusively for consuming content -- watching videos, browsing the Web and so on -- by tilting toward Microsoft's forte, productivity.
"Pen support will be a differentiator from the iPad Mini and Nexus 7," said Ubrani. "And the timing is right for the back-to-school season, where this could be easily marketed as a note-taking device."
None of the analysts, however, thought that the addition of a miniature Surface tablet would measurably move the needle for either Microsoft or the broader Windows-based tablet ecosystem. Singh, for instance, called a prospective Surface Mini a "niche" product and added, "While there may be significant demand for small-screen tablets, it is unlikely to be from the segments targeted by Microsoft."
According to IDC, Windows powered about 3.4% of all tablets shipped in 2013, a far cry from the 35% of Apple's iOS and 61% of Google's Android.
How do you use your smartphone or tablet to view and share tech-related information? Tell us using this short survey for a chance to win an iPad mini. You must be a U.S. resident, 18 years or older, to be eligible; at the end of the survey all you have to give us is your email address. The survey ends May 20, 2014.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Microsoft again writes off Surface inventory, renews profitability doubts
- Surface survives Microsoft cuts, but tablet strategy remains muddled
- Surface Pro 3 not a notebook replacement to DIYers who want inside
- Microsoft wants MacBook Air owners to trade up to a Surface Pro by trading in
- Surface Pro 3 'notebook' reaches retail today
- Whoops! Microsoft goof confirms Surface Mini
- Surface Pro 3 deep-dive review: Has Microsoft finally got it right?
- Perspective: The Surface Pro is Microsoft's latest premature introduction problem
- Surface Pro 3's 'tweener' screen is too small for a laptop, too big for a tablet
- Buy a Surface Pro 3, get it at summer's end
Read more about Tablets in Computerworld's Tablets Topic Center.
- Enterprise Mobility Management Checklist Read this checklist for tips and considerations when creating your own Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) strategy.
- Comprehensive Advanced Threat Defense The hot topic in the information security industry these days is "Advanced Threat Defense" (ATD). This paper describes a comprehensive, network-based approach to...
- Advanced Threat Defense: A Comprehensive Approach In this interview, Peter George, president, General Dynamics Fidelis Cybersecurity Solutions, explains why we need more than anti-malware, and what constitutes a comprehensive...
- Market Overview: Digital Customer Experience Delivery Platforms Forrester states that businesses today struggle to understand and use the tools necessary to create and manage unified, multichannel digital customer experiences across...
- Client Management: Simplifying Life for System Admins Watch this brief webinar to hear how implementing a client management strategy not only overcomes common Apple-ization challenges related to data protection &...
- On-demand webinar - 7 Keys to Service Catalog Implementation Success Watch this webinar to learn 7 crucial keys to make your service catalog a success! All Tablets White Papers | Webcasts
Our new weekly Consumerization of IT newsletter covers a wide range of trends including BYOD, smartphones, tablets, MDM, cloud, social and what it all means for IT. Subscribe now and stay up to date!