Does Microsoft have a Surface Mini in the works? If so, it's certainly living up to its name as after all the hype, rumors and guesswork, the company's elusive smaller slate is still nowhere to be found.
That said, we wouldn't bet against one rearing its head soon. According to Microsoft's latest financial report, the company's Surface revenue increased more than 50 per cent during the first quarter of 2014, and it would make sense to build on the Surface Pro 3's momentum with a smaller companion model soon.
But no new Surface is guaranteed success: Microsoft is still sore from writing off $900 million of unmoved Surface RT stock back in 2012, and new CEO Satya Nadella will be keen to avoid repeating Ballmer's missteps.
One area where a Surface Mini could excel that's been central to the product line's appeal is productivity. From the start, all Surface tablets have come with excellent keyboard accessories, a chunk of free OneDrive cloud storage and a free copy of Office Home & 2013, giving any new product a solid base to build on.
No small task
But let's not get carried away: even with the Surface Pro 3 let loose into the wild, Microsoft still has its work cut out - and then some. A need to diversify the Surface product line to include devices smaller than the 10.6-inch category is still important for the company to remain competitive.
Apple has enjoyed a lengthy head start with its iPad Mini and iPad Mini 2 with Retina tablets, which now run Microsoft's capable Office for iPad suite. Even Microsoft's own hardware partners including Acer, Toshiba and Dell and Lenovo have been putting out 8-inch devices running full-fat Windows 8 for almost a year at a price that by far undercut even the cheapest Surface on the market.
The question is: what areas will Microsoft focus the Surface Mini's strengths? Will it go down the predicted productivity route, or could it throw a curveball by outing a miniature rottweiler of a gaming and entertainment machine?
Surface Mini release date
Microsoft invited guests to a "small gathering" back in May, prompting many to think that the Surface Mini was about to land. It was, in fact, something of a curveball, as the event was used to unveil the Surface Pro 3.
So what happened to it? According to a source that spoke to Neowin, Microsoft pulled the plug at the last minute out of fears that it would not sell, despite having produced between 15,000 and 20,000 units. According to a report by DigiTimes published on June 30, Microsoft called off a plan to mass produce the device because of "fierce competition in the small-size segment, as well as negative responses from its brand vendor clients".
All of this doom and gloom was confirmed when Microsoft released its financials for the second quarter of 2014, which offered an admission that it axed the Surface Mini. "Current year cost of revenue included Surface inventory adjustments resulting from our transition to newer generation devices and a decision to not ship a new form factor," read the illuminating item under a section titled "Computer and Gaming Hardware."
So, could a resurrection be on the cards? According to a report by DigiTimes the answer is yes: and it could be here as soon as October 2014. Citing a Taiwan-based source from supply chain company Pegatron, which supplies parts for Microsoft's Surface devices, DigiTimes reckons the new device will be a 10.6-inch Surface that's "slimmer, lighter and expected to have better sales performance than the former" [the Surface Pro 3]. Its source claims that Microsoft will begin production of components for the device in August, leading to mass production in September.
Other rumours paint a similarly bright future for the Surface Mini. A source that spoke to Neowin claims that Microsoft is waiting for a touch-based version of Office (codenamed Gemini) to arrive, which some say is expected to launch later this year. That (sort of) falls in line with a claim by tech tipster @evleaks, which reckons that the device has rolled back onto the production line and will see a summer release.
ZDNet columnist Mary Jo Foley isn't quite so optimistic. Foley predicts that Microsoft's Gemini apps will in fact appear later in Spring 2015, pushing the Surface Mini's release date into next year - should it appear at all.
By the time we see the Surface Mini launch, it may even arrive with Windows 8.2.1, also known as Windows 8.1 Update 2, which would also pitch the device as due to arrive in the fall.
Previously, reports had pegged a suggested date of May 18 for the Surface Mini reveal after an Amazon product listing for a case appeared online. Posted by electronics wholesale Vostrostone (VSTN), the listing, which is still online, says that the case as "Specifically designed cutouts for Microsoft Surface Mini tablet". Whether it's the real deal is yet to be seen, but it certainly sounds convincing.
The Surface Mini was widely expected to land by the end of the 2013 to launch in tandem with the Surface 2, but was pushed back to 2014 due to a combination of business strategy and supply chain issues, according to Neowin.
As picked up by GeekWire, Microsoft has already launched a 7-inch tablet running Windows 8.1. Sort of. As revealed at Computex 2014, Redmond worked hand-in-hand with Intel and Toshiba to co-develop the Encore 7 slate. Toshiba is an early adopter of the new Windows 8.1 with Bing OS, and GeekWire sees the device's release as Microsoft getting a small slate out of its system until the Surface Mini is ready to land.