A Surface Mini Could Wake Up Windows Phone 8

surface-familyI love the idea of the Surface: compelling hardware, striking form factor, and, in the case of the Pro, smart compromises to offer a good value. But the products fail to live up to their promise. They have first generation bugs. But maybe a low-priced Surface with a smaller screen could finally help bring the Surface promise to life. It just better run Windows Phone 8 and not Windows RT.

Yesterday at Goldman Sachs Technology & Internet Conference on Wednesday, Microsoft CFO Peter Klein spoke to the Surface and Microsoft’s ability to scale to different form factors. As John Paczkowski lays out, Microsoft could build a Surface Mini.

Both Windows 8/RT and Windows Phone 8 could handle the task. With both options comes compromises, though.

“We can have the same core code base driving form factors from four inches all the way up to 27-inch ones and everything in between,” Klein said. “So I think we are well set up to respond to demand as we see it. We can deliver a versatile set of experiences across form factors, whether they’re four-inch, five-inch, seven-inch, 10-inch or 13-inch.”

Windows 8 requires beefy hardware but can run any Windows application. Windows RT has an extremely limited marketplace of apps and it doesn’t seem to be improving with time. The task seems best suited for Windows Phone 8 even though it’s far from a blockbuster hit yet.

Microsoft’s latest mobile OS is still struggling. It’s fighting for third place against BlackBerry. Android and iOS are simply out of reach. Consumers might not be buying the smartphones en mass, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fantastic user experience.

I love Windows Phone 8, but I wouldn’t use one as a daily driver. The user experience is beautiful. It’s slick, intuitive, and would scale nicely to a larger screen. It doesn’t require serious computing hardware, allowing for tablets with thin form factors and longer battery lives.

Microsoft might not be alone in developing a 7- to 8-inch tablet. Nokia has been said to be working one as well with its reveal coming as soon as next week at MWC.

Even with a beautiful hardware and wonderful OS, it’s pretty clear that a Windows Phone 8 tablet would struggle to gain traction. Even though WinPhone 8 is growing, the platform’s app ecosystem is pretty weak. Developers are not flooding the Store with apps. The platform is relatively unknown to most consumers. And another Microsoft-made tablet platform could be detrimental to the entire operation.

Microsoft is in a precarious situation. It can no longer rely on third parties like HP and Asus to advance its software. The company clearly feels its hardware needs to lead the charge. The first generation Surfaces are good, but not good enough. A smaller form factor model could help rejuvenation the brand once it goes stale in a few months.