Is Microsoft About to Announce an Info Pad?

The reports leaking out of Redmond are intriguing. Tomorrow (May 20, 2014) Microsoft will reportedly announce a “Surface Mini” tablet, a touchscreen device in the same size class as an iPad Mini but equipped with a stylus and note-taking software (link).

Most of the press reports have focused on the chip vendor (link) and comparisons to the iPad Mini, but what most of them seem to miss is that this may be a new category of mobile device. The Surface Mini as described in the reports sounds very much like an info pad, a tablet optimized for managing business information and taking notes in meetings.

That product opportunity has been evident for at least ten years. It has a very distinct customer base that is more interested in business productivity than in playing games or listening to music. When I was at Palm, we studied the market closely, and later I tried to pull together a startup to build one (that evolved into Zekira, the software startup I’m working on now).

Although you can use an iPad for business functions, a device optimized for notes and business productivity could be far more compelling than an iPad for that particular usage and for those particular customers. But the price has to be right and a ton of little features have to be done correctly. And you have to market it properly, so it looks like the ultimate replacement for the paper notepad rather than a debased iPad. The right product is an appliance for business info, not an iPad that happens to have a stylus.

I’ve written about the info pad opportunity in the past. You can read about it here.

Is this the vision Microsoft’s shooting for? Will it get the details right? I’m more intrigued by this announcement than by anything else Microsoft’s done in years. Stay tuned.


Andrew said...

Very interesting. Microsoft's approach seems to be more brute force, though, and I'm not sure they have the finesse to go for a niche success when they're so desperate for mainstream adoption. Of course, note taking on the surface pro was fantastic when I tried it out in store. Microsoft has all of the ingredients (OneNote is also great) but I don't know that they'll be able to execute.

Have you seen that Office Ink slide deck that went around. Definitely looks intriguing. I could go for a surface ink.

Anonymous said...

"Microsoft's approach seems to be more brute force" is spot on, but then again, they've had some recent successes, like the veritable Xbox empire, and the Kinect.

Besides lack of taste, the other thing that perennially holds Microsoft back is their insistence that any new product be "Windows" and "Office". (Even their smartphone operating system is "Windows Phone", even though it has no windows!) They seem afraid to launch fully new products.

I'd say the extent to which this new (rumored) device succeeds is the extent to which they're able to let it stand on its own, rather than tying it to their old Windows and Office successes. They have a new CEO, and they're now putting Office on iOS, so maybe there's hope.

On the other hand, if it's just another Surface, I don't see it making much of a dent. They claimed that was a "new category of device", too, but that didn't help it from being a flop. People don't buy devices just because they're new categories.

Harsha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Harsha said...

This sounds a lot like the Courier project that was shelved awhile back.

I have to admit I fell in love with that concept. Every tablet (iPads included) has been a let down, at least for this specific purpose.

Link to Courier video:

gmo said...

This is Microsoft, hence:
1. It will be a smaller Surface with a pen.
2. It will run Windows 8.1.

On top of that we might see a newer revision of OneNote.

I cannot see this be revolutionary. Evolutionary at best.

Avi Greengart said...

There is the instant-on OneNote feature, but otherwise, the Surface 3 is just a really flexible laptop, not an infopad.

Michael Mace said...

Yup, word is they killed the little guy at the last minute. (Sigh)

Chan said...

There is significant market for writing pads. After all human race moved forward many 1000 years because of hand-writing not because of keyboards.

Almost all of us accustomed well in writing from school days. Though I can't measure it now I remember I wrote Graffiti quite fast with my Pilot back in the days and really used to love it.

And people say I have very nice hand-writing that some still come to me for CD labels. In vein the skills are fast dying because I have grown on keyboards now.

Always given a moment I would like to have thin tip Wacom stylus for the iPad.

And here were are up until now Samsung Note Series was our only savior. Other than the religious denial of the Stylus from Steve, Apple should adopt it for the iPad guess.

At least MS is doing it is a good sign for me.