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Will Microsoft event Surface a small tablet?

I's been quite a honeymoon for new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. The executive, named to the top position in February, has continued the strategic shifts begun under predecessor Steve Ballmer.

But Nadella has also managed to put his own stamp on the company's messaging and tactics, and the reward has been a bump in the stock price. Now comes the hard part: managing Microsoft's substantial investments in hardware and mobile devices.

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That continues on Tuesday in New York, when Nadella takes the stage for an 11 a.m. event that many tech observers believe will introduce new Surface and Surface Pro tablets.

But what kind of Surface tablets? A smaller "mini" tablet with a 7- or 8-inch screen, which has become a popular size in the tablet market?

"The consensus on (Tuesday's) event seem to be centered on the announcement of a new Surface 'mini' running Windows RT, which seems a likely scenario to me," said Charles King, president and principal analyst at industry watcher Pund-IT. "The fact is that the tablet market has evolved to support both mini (7-8 inch) and maxi (10-inch) sized products, to the point where even Apple, the longest major holdout, finally threw in the towel with the iPad mini."

But an Intel-based mini-Surface running the latest version of Windows 8.1, "seems a bit far-fetched to me," King added. "The company may have felt that developing its own hardware was the only way Windows RT would have received proper attention, but the move reportedly irritated some of Microsoft's hardware partners to the point (that they are) throttling back or fully abandoning development of RT devices."

Many of those same companies are finally seeing their smaller Windows 8.1 tablets gaining traction, "so the appearance of a new mini Surface Pro would be unnecessarily provocative."

Then again, why would the company want to go up against other inexpensive Windows tablets coming soon?

"It is doubtful Microsoft will do a 7-inch or 8-inch product near-term," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. "A number of vendors plan to have Windows tablets in the second half of the year running on Intel and priced around $100, and I just don't think Microsoft wants to play at that price point."

What Enderle is hearing is that Microsoft needs to separate the Surface and Surface Pro products, with the former being positioned more like a tablet and the Pro "closer to a laptop in primary form to better match user needs. My expectation is that they are likely to make a strong move in that direction."With Nadella, they have the opportunity to create a much richer, more differentiated line that is more strongly connected to cloud services and pulls from more of Microsoft," Enderle said.

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