Whoops! Microsoft goof confirms Surface Mini

Erased the smaller tablet from launch plans, but left mentions in documentation

Microsoft has inadvertently confirmed that it had a smaller Surface tablet ready to release when it unveiled the larger Surface Pro 3 last month.

Eagle-eyed observers today pointed out that the Surface Mini, a long-rumored small tablet, was referenced several times in the Surface Pro 3 User Guide, which is available online.

Microsoft started selling some models of the Surface Pro 3 in retail today, and began delivering devices that customers had pre-ordered since the May 20 introduction.

The Surface Mini was featured most predominantly in the user guide's discussion of the Surface Pen, a writing and sketching tool that comes with the Surface Pro 3, and apparently would have accompanied the smaller tablet, too. Mentions of OneNote, Microsoft's note-taking app, were scattered throughout the guide, including the sections where the Surface Mini was mentioned.

"Click the top button [of the Surface Pen] to open OneNote, even if your Surface is locked," the guide stated. "Bluetooth technology links your Surface Pen to your Surface Mini or Surface Pro 3, so when you click the button, your Surface responds instantly [emphasis added]."

That matches what some reported prior to Microsoft's May 20 event: The Surface Mini, those reports claimed, would be pitched as a note-taking device, and released in time for the back-to-school sales season.

The Surface Mini was assumed to be a 7-in. or 8-in. tablet akin to the Surface 2, the second-generation of the Surface RT, a tablet powered by Windows RT, the tablet-only operating system that features colorful tiles and boasts a new ecosystem of apps.

The day before the Surface event, Computerworld reported that Microsoft would not unveil the Surface Mini. Later accounts elsewhere claimed that the device was pulled from the presentation -- and thus release -- at the last minute as executives feared that the Mini wasn't sufficiently different from lower-priced rivals to do well in the market.

Microsoft's skittishness may have stemmed from memories of the $900 million write-off it took in mid-2013 to account for lackluster sales and overstocked inventories of the original Surface RT tablet.

It's possible that Microsoft will eventually launch a smaller Surface, perhaps even the built-but-not-sold Surface Mini, but the company has not publicly confirmed the tablet's existence, much less a timeline for its release.

The Surface Pro 3 user guide can be retrieved from Microsoft's website ( download PDF).

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 gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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