Microsoft will reportedly roll out a new addition to its line of Surface devices, one with a form factor closer to that of Apple's iPad mini. This according to WPDang, which claims that the device may launch in the first half of next year. The move would be the latest in a series that has seen Microsoft attempting to combat the growth of iOS and Android in the mobile computing market, a segment that appears on track to replace traditional personal computers as the dominant computing paradigm.
Rumors of a mid-sized Surface tablet have existed since the initial run of Surface devices was revealed late last year, but they gained steam this year with reports in April from The Wall Street Journal that a device was in the works. Subsequent reports said that Microsoft was plotting a 7.5-inch device with a pixel density of 233 pixels per inch..
The latest rumors have the device packing a 1080p display and perhaps an 8-inch screen. The rumors resurface as Nokia is said to have scrapped its plans for an 8-inch Windows RT device. As Microsoft is in the process of finishing up its $7.2 billion acquisition of the Finnish hardware maker's devices segment, the supposed cancellation of Nokia's project could be aimed at avoiding product redundancy.
Rumors surrounding the Surface mini's internals are contradictory at best. Some reports have Microsoft going with an ARM processor, with the device running Windows RT, while others have Microsoft relying on a Bay Trail processor from Intel to power the full version of Windows 8.1. The former would allow for a slimmer, cooler-running device, but the latter would allow the mini to run legacy Windows apps.
Microsoft is also said to be working on gesture controls for the device, likely in the vein of those seen with the Kinect sensor built into the Xbox One game console. In addition to gesture controls, integration of Kinect-like hardware would allow a Surface mini to recognize users' faces and precise hand movements. Microsoft has been working on integrating Kinect into Windows, and such a device would represent the biggest step in that direction that the company has yet taken.
Microsoft's Surface tablets trail Apple's iPad and the Android tablet segment in terms of market share. The first generation of Surface devices debuted to middling reviews, with tech observers praising their hardware design but panning Windows 8.1 and its lack of touch-optimized apps. The second generation has seen a more positive reception, but app ecosystem complaints persist, and it will take considerable sales for Microsoft to make a dent in the segment.
In releasing a mid-sized device, Microsoft is attempting to tackle what is an increasingly popular portion of the tablet market. It is also stepping into a turf defined by others - namely, Samsung and Amazon with their respective Galaxy Tab and Kindle Fire devices - but now dominated by Apple with its iPad mini.
Apple's iPad and iPad mini account for 30 percent of the overall tablet market, according to IHS. Apple sold 14.25 million iPads in the third quarter of 2013. The Cupertino firm does not break down the sales of specific iPad models, but observers believe that the more portable iPad mini has indeed proved quite attractive to consumers, and it is almost without a doubt the best selling tablet in its size class. Chief Apple rival Samsung is gradually gaining on the iPad maker, but no Windows-powered tablets have made a dent so far.