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TheStreet Open House

What Happened to Microsoft's Surface Mini?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- At Tuesday's unveiling of Microsoft's (MSFT) new Surface Pro 3 tablet with the 12-inch screen, there was a complete lack of discussion about any other device, the one which had been rumored would be big part of the stage show. That never happened.

It was supposed to be a smaller tablet called the Surface Mini. There was zero mention of a such a computer at the event. But in case you think the Mini was just a bad rumor, you should see the automated email I received from (AMZN) overnight touting a half dozen accessories for this phantom device.

Microsoft shares were advancing 0.18% to $39.75 in premarket trading in New York.

According to a number of reports, the Surface Mini was a very real product until the last possible moment or, at least, until Stephen Elop rejoined Microsoft when the Nokia purchase was completed. According to some reports, Elop was the guy who killed the Mini project.

The Surface Mini reportedly was designed to be Microsoft's Apple (AAPL) iPad mini killer. It would have had a 7- or 8-inch touchscreen and would have run the company's Windows RT operating system on an ARM- (ARMH) based processor made by Qualcomm (QCOM).

But Elop seems to have an apparent aversion to operating systems with underperforming sales. When he first took over Nokia, his first big move was to kill the once-dominant Symbian OS and go with Microsoft's Windows Phone OS instead. Now it seems he may be responsible for delaying and possibly ending Windows RT's short but un-memorable life.

It's not that RT is bad. It's not. It's just unnecessary. When you produce a full-featured PC operating system (Windows Pro) and a full-featured mobile operating system (Windows Phone) you don't need another, somewhat limited, OS which can't run popular third-party applications. 

In his new role as vice president of devices and services at Microsoft, Elop is in charge of the Surface hardware project. He was in attendance at Tuesday's event sitting in the front row right next to new CEO Satya Nadella. Even the incredibly personable Surface project leader, Panos Panay, who gave the bulk of the on-stage hardware presentation, made mention of his new boss being in the audience.

If anyone was going to speak up against a product which would have a hopelessly uphill battle upon release, it should have been Elop. Unless, of course, Microsoft would have been able to price its Mini to directly compete with the multitude of Google (GOOG) Android-based tablets under $200. Based on what it's asking for a new Surface Pro 3 (anywhere from $799 to an eye-popping $1,949 depending on the configuration), a Surface Mini probably would have been priced to compete with Apple's iPad mini ($299 and up).

So there was no Mini and no mention of Windows RT. The jury is out on whether we will hear about either project ever again. In the meantime, Microsoft wants you to concentrate on the new Pro 3. It officially became available for pre-ordering Wednesday morning.

-- Written by Gary Krakow in New York.

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Gary Krakow is TheStreet's Senior Technology Correspondent.

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