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10 things we want to see in Microsoft's Surface Mini

Brad Chacos | May 8, 2014
If Microsoft indeed intends to release a shrunk-down Surface Mini this month, as an invite for a "small" Surface event suggests, merely downsizing the tablet's design to fit an 8-inch frame ain't going to cut it. Sure, the Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2 are beautiful pieces of kit, but they're made for big-screen productivity--the Surface Pro is essentially an Ultrabook without a keyboard. That experience won't translate well to a smaller form factor, better suited for content consumption than content creation.

If Windows RT can shine anywhere right now, it's on a Surface Mini.

4. Office apps

Small tablets are about media and games, but Surface is about productivity. For Microsoft, productivity means Office. The Surface Mini needs Office preinstalled. Period.

Windows RT ships with Office 2013, including Outlook, but Office is a must-have preload for the Surface Mini even if Microsoft decides to go with an Atom processor and Windows 8. Beta access to the touch-first versions of Office currently in development would be a great addition — especially if the next suggestion comes to fruition.

5. A digital pen

Separate reports from Neowin and ZDNet say the Surface Mini will ship with a digitizer pen, just like the Surface Pro 2. Frankly, it's a wonderful idea. A digitizer pen — which is much more technologically capable than a mere capacitive stylus, as explained in this HowToGeek article — would give the Surface Mini a leg up over the flood of other 8-inch Windows tablets. Paired with a prominent Live Tile for the Modern-style OneNote app, the Surface Mini could establish itself as the go-to note-taking and basic diagramming tablet: Professionally capable, yet eminently portable.

6. A thoughtful app experience

Tablets are all about the apps. Microsoft's Windows Store lags behind Apple's App Store and Google Play, but Microsoft could help the Surface Mini's use case by providing a thoughtful, tailored Start screen, rather than the stock Windows 8.1 Live Tile jumble.

Give prime positions to the Video, Music, Games, Reading List, and Bing News apps, as those apps translate wonderfully to the small-screen experience. Make sure shortcuts to Office are there, and that OneDrive and Skype stand out.

But don't stop at that! Preload non-stock apps that would show well on a Surface Mini. Give OneNote prominent placement to highlight the digitizing pen's potential. Add Xbox Smartglass so that you can control your Microsoft console with your tablet. Install Nook (or the mysterious "Microsoft Consumer Reader") to provide a great reading experience out of the box, as small tablets and e-books go together better than rum and coke. Toss in Halo: Spartan Assault and Skulls of the Shogun to emphasize the gaming chops of small slates and drive home the Windows ecosystem's new universal app capabilities. And don't forget the oh-so-wonderful Fresh Paint!

App discoverability doesn't have to be relegated to preloaded programs, either. When you register your Surface Mini with a Microsoft Account, Microsoft could email you a list of Windows Store apps that offer a great diminutive display experience — think Netflix, Slacker Radio, Kindle, and ESPN.

7. An onramp to the Windows ecosystem


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