Microsoft’s Surface 2 unveiling on Sept. 23, 2013, was the first event where the Surface Mini was expected. Microsoft instead killed the product months later.
Image: Mashable, Christina Ascani

Microsoft has confirmed it cancelled plans to release a Surface Mini tablet in the spring.

During Tuesday’s quarterly earnings call, CFO Amy Hood said that part of the reason revenue from the company’s line of Surface tablets took a hit was because it had decided to kill an unreleased product.

“During the quarter, we reassessed our product roadmap and decided not to ship a new form factor that was under development,” Hood said. While she doesn’t identify the Surface Mini by name, other reports claimed Microsoft has scrapped plans to release the tablet late in the game, then the company accidentally confirmed the product’s existence in a user manual that referenced the Mini directly.

The decision to take the ax to the Surface Mini was reportedly influenced by CEO Satya Nadella, whose bid to reshape Microsoft includes a clear focus on productivity. While the company has many consumer-facing products (notably Xbox), Windows devices have been criticized as not serving small-screen tablet market as well as iPads and Android models, and market statistics reflect this.

The small-screen tablet market has grown quickly over the past two years, but Windows didn’t support those designs until fall 2013 with the release of Windows 8.1. It appeared inevitable that the Surface line would get a Mini version after that, but since smaller tablets are inherently more about consumption than productivity, such a product wouldn’t fit with Nadella’s vision of the new Microsoft.

When Microsoft held the next Surface product launch in May, it instead announced the Surface Pro 3, a 12-inch tablet that runs full Windows 8.1 Pro, powered by an Intel Core processor.

Other manufacturers have filled the void with small Windows tablets, and most run Windows 8.1, powered by Intel Atom chips. Lenovo was reportedly going to stop selling small Windows tablets in the U.S. due to lack of demand, but the company quickly reaffirmed its commitment to different-size tablets and said it would bring a new small Windows tablet to the American market before the end of 2014.

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Apple has won a patent for a removable iPhone case that cuts down on background noise.

Touting what the company is calling a “windscreen” design, the concept aims to reduce distracting sounds picked up by the device’s microphone that may make it hard to hear a phone conversation.

“The windscreen is designed to reduce wind noise, air blasts, vocal plosives and other noise,” Apple said in its patent application. “This may enable the speech of a user of the device to remain intelligible despite the presence of such noise during a call, and without requiring the user to shout into the device’s microphone.”

Although the patent was filed on Jan. 11, 2011, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approved the application last week. The patent is good for all portable electronic devices that enable users to participate in a real-time two-way conversation.

Apple Windscreen Mobile Case

As shown in the image above, device calls for a windscreen sealed across an opening of the case that aligns with a microphone port built into the device (number 11). This would allow the passage of sound to go through the internal microphone and not pick up surrounding sound.

It is unknown if and when Apple will launch the windscreen case. Meanwhile, since the patent was filed before the launch of the current iPhone 4S and judging by the rendering, it looks like the iPhone will stay the same shape and size for some time.

“Handheld mobile communications devices, particularly mobile phones, have enabled users to engage in real-time two-way conversations while walking, running, riding in a car or during other activities,” Apple noted. “In a number of these situations, a user may be conducting a conversation in a noisy environment, such as outside in the wind or inside a moving car with its window down.”

Would you buy a noise-reducing removable iPhone case? Let us know in the comments.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, LoooZaaa

BONUS: 10 Intriguing Apple Patents to Get Excited About

Top-5-apps-your-kids-will-love-this-week-28a9f514e5Chris Crowell is a veteran kindergarten teacher and contributing editor to Children’s Technology Review, a web-based archive of articles and reviews on apps, technology toys and video games. Download a free issue of CTR here.


Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact
Image: Sony

BERLIN — When it comes to tablets, Sony has so far kept things relatively simple — the company made fairly large but very thin, waterproof Android slates, such as the 10.1-inch Xperia Tablet Z and Z2.

Now, at IFA, Sony has launched its first 8-inch tablet: the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact, calling it the “world’s slimmest and lightest” in its category.

At 0.25 inch thick and 9.5 ounces, the device is indeed compact, especially compared with its obvious competitor, the 7.9-inch iPad mini from Apple, which in its latest iteration measures 0.29 inch and weighs 11.6 ounces.

And, just like its predecessors in the Xperia Tablet range, it’s waterproof and dust-proof to IP65/68 specifications.

As far as internals go, the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is essentially the same device as the Z3 smartphone — a quad-core, 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, Adreno 330 graphics, 3GB of RAM, 16GB of storage memory (expandable up to 128GB via microSD cards).

The main difference is the camera — the Z3 Tablet Compact sports an 8.1-megapixel imager — and, of course, the 8-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 pixel screen and 4,500 milliamp-hour (mAh) battery, courtesy of the tablet’s larger form factor.

Just like the Z3, the Tablet Compact supports PS4 Remote Play, meaning you can use the tablet to connect and control the games you play on a PlayStation 4.

Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact

Sony’s 8-inch tablet supports the company’s audio upscaling technology, which — in theory — makes your MP3s and AACs sound better.

Image: Stan Schroeder, Mashable

Other software tidbits from the Z3, such as Sony’s DSEE HX tech that “upscales” the quality of your MP3 and AAC files, are present on the Tablet Compact as well.

The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact will be available globally in autumn 2014. The device will be available in black or white, either as an LTE or a Wi-Fi-only device.

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It’s rapidly starting to look like your best chance at getting a Surface tablet in the next couple weeks is to head over to a Microsoft retail store, unless your order’s already in. For those of you planning to make the trek, Microsoft has revealed an additional incentive to help sweeten the deal, offering some customers a year’s worth of premium Xbox Music service.

We talked about Xbox Music a little last week, when Microsoft announced the cross-platform streaming service. While it’s going to be free as an ad-supported edition on Windows 8 devices, a premium $10 monthly subscription is needed to access the service through Xbox consoles and smartphones.

As part of Friday’s launch event, the first 100 people in line at any Microsoft retail store will be eligible for the free Xbox Music Pass. Microsoft seems to imply that the purchase of a Surface tablet is required for the offer, but the terms and conditions leave a bit more leeway; you might just be able to get away with any purchase in the store — but don’t quote us on that.

The offer should be good at both full Microsoft retail stores and its pop-up kiosks erected for the Surface launch.

This article originally published at Pocketnow

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Netflix has moved its “Just for Kids” section to tablet territory, launching the section in the Netflix app for Apple’s iPad.

The new section, aimed at kids aged 12 and under, lets users choose shows to watch from a grid of icons. Clicking a button in the Netflix app will take users right to the section, explained the company in a blog post. Kids can also search for shows by character or genre; when they find something interesting, they can start watching by double tapping the icon.

Shows such as Bob The Builder, Thomas the Tank Engine, Curious George, SpongeBob, Power Rangers and others are available.

The app is available for the iPad 2 and the new iPad, but Netflix promises to release a version for the original iPad and Android tablets “later.”

Netflix launched its “Just for Kids” section in August 2011, bringing it to PlayStation 3 in March 2012. It is also available for PC and Mac, Nintendo Wii, Xbox and Apple TV.

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Are your kids eager to get their hands on a tablet device?

Your kids may love their video games, but a recent survey shows the popularity of tablets is surging faster than video game consoles. Although families love gadgets of all types — the survey also showed that households with kids ages 4-14 own an average of 10 different devices, with kids using an average of five of those devices.

This new survey released by market research company, The NPD Group titled Kids and Consumer Electronics: 2012 Edition, shows new trends and stats for families and their mobile devices.

Video game console usage rates for children ages 4-14 are still higher than tablets, but this past year saw a strong increase in tablet usage among that age group: with a 13% increase in usage rate in 2012 vs. only 3% in 2011. Tablet usage is most popular among younger children — perhaps no surprise considering how many videos there are on YouTube of babies playing with tablets. The survey concludes that it would be wise for tablet makers to construct devices to be simple enough for even a baby to use.

Kids are using tablets to game, watch movies and TV shows, read books and listen to music-even occasionally for taking pictures- so they have embraced the utility of these devices quite rapidly,” Russ Crupnick, senior vice president, industry analysis, The NPD Group said in a statement. “Older kids also use the tablets for social media and communication, which squarely places these devices at the center for discovery and evangelism of new services and applications, as well as for brands and entertainment of all sorts.”

Portable digital music players (like the iPod) have declined in popularity this past year. Just 35% of households contacted for this survey own those devices, compared to 48% in 2011.

Attention advertisers: Gaming systems and portable entertainment devices topped the list of devices over which children will have the most influence on future device selection. And when considering a new purchase, “the type of technology and features offered by a new device is nearly as important as low price and good value,” the survey noted.

The online survey was conducted March 6-21, 2012, to a representative sample of 3,235 male and female adults ages 23 and over whom are members of NPD’s online panel and have children ages 4 to 14 in the household.

What do you think of this survey’s data? Do you identify with these answers? Tell us in the comments.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, aperturismo.

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The foreman of the Apple vs. Samsung jury explained in an interview Monday how it came to such a quick decision — despite encountering a stalemate between some jurors early in the process.

Velvin Hogan, an electrical engineer who headed up the jury, told BloombergTV how the jury came to find Samsung guilty in the case and award Apple more than $1 billion.

“I thought it was ultimately going to lean the other way, ” he said. As the jury went through each point, however, Hogan said it became more and more apparent that Samsung was guilty.

“The evidence was overwhelming,” Hogan said. “Samsung should have known or did know they were infringing.”

Hogan, who has his own patent pertaining to video games, says nobody on the jury uses an iPhone and that he has intentionally never purchased an Apple product. Hogan also doesn’t own any Samsung products. The only Samsung product in his home: a cell phone used by his wife that’s “not even a smartphone.”

Shortly after the court’s ruling Friday, Samsung issued a statement specifically calling out the juror’s decision on Apple’s design patent: “It is unfortunate that patent law can be manipulated to give one company a monopoly over rectangles with rounded corners,” it read.

But Hogan says that the jury made the decision not based just one element of the design, such as a device’s rectangle shape.

“In the case of the design patent it was the look and feel of it, and how the device presented itself,” he said. “When you compared them side by side, it was apparent the patent was valid.”

When asked if he thought this was a case that could be handled by a traditional jury, Hogan answered with a firm “Yes I do.” He then went on to say “While it was complicated, I believe that any jury of our peers could have reached this decision.”

The jury in the case found that Samsung “willfully” infringed on five of seven Apple patents including the iPhone’s iconography, its “pinch-and-zoom” feature, the “bounce-back” effect in on-screen scrolling and the double-tap zoom.

Apple is currently attempting to block the sale of eight Samsung products in the U.S. as a result of the case.

Samsung has indicated plans to counter-sue Apple.

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Can an iPhone-loving Apple fangirl survive using Windows Phone 8 for 10 days? The answer is a resounding yes. Our Living With Lumia challenge has come to an end and I have some final thoughts about Nokia’s Lumia 920, Windows Phone 8 and the future of the platform.

Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, I actually ended up using the Lumia 920 for 12 days. In that time, I feel like I got a really good look at the platform along with its strengths and weaknesses.

The Good

Windows Phone 8 is really starting to come into its own. It’s taken some time, but at this stage, Windows Phone finally feels like a fully fleshed-out mobile OS.

Over the course of nearly two weeks, I was frequently asked by friends, co-workers (and even a few strangers) about the Lumia 920 and the OS. When showing it off, the standout feature that always elicited an “ooooh” was the People Hub.

Microsoft has absolutely nailed the way it handles contact management and the way social feeds are seamlessly integrated in a way that isn’t overwhelming. The People Hub and the living lock screen are two features that genuinely enhance the mobile phone experience.

As for the Lumia 920 itself, while it is a large phone, I appreciated the fact that it’s durable and well made. This is a phone that quite literally can be dropped on the ground without the fear of damage.

Although I initially had some issues with the battery, a combination of manual cycles and uninstalling/reinstalling certain apps seemed to fix the problem. Battery life is solid.

I’ve discussed the web and app situations in my prior posts — but suffice it to say, I’m very impressed with the default app situation and there are some truly excellent third-party apps in the mix.

As I said in my video entry, I’m really looking forward to continuing to follow the developer story surrounding Windows Phone 8. This platform has serious potential that I can see peeking through the edges and I look forward to watching that grow.

The Bad

No operating system is perfect, and Windows Phone has its share of niggles and challenges. While it would be easy to write off the issues with Windows Phone 8 being related to apps (or lack thereof), it’s not that simple.

As I said above, there are some truly excellent Windows Phone apps (and you can see a list of some of my favorites here), but I can’t help but be bothered by the lack of maturity of the ecosystem.

Windows Phone needs Instagram. It’s as simple as that. The need for Instagram isn’t just about making it available to the millions of users — like me — who love and depend on the network, it’s also symbolic.

Having (or not having) support for Instagram is a sign that a platform matters. It will be really hard to convince independent developers to invest in Windows Phone, for either apps or mobile web support, if the biggest and most important players aren’t there.

As for the Lumia 920 itself — as much as I like the camera, especially in low light — I don’t love the UI. It’s both too simplistic and too difficult at once. The half-shutter capture built into the camera button helps, but setting a focus point (which you can do on iOS and most Android phones with ease) takes far too much effort.

Don’t get me wrong — the low-light stills and video are fabulous — but it takes a bit too much effort for my taste, which is a shame as the camera really can turn out some of the best shots I’ve seen on a smartphone.

The ‘Needs Improvement’

Microsoft has done a good job of being consistent across devices and services with a few exceptions. Setting up Xbox Music on the Lumia is not as seamless as it should be. The same goes for the Movies store.

Speaking of Xbox — as good as Smart Glass is, I still don’t get the sense that there is real cohesion between Windows Phone and Xbox. This is a shame because, done properly and deeply, this could be a way to not only address the casual and portable gaming markets, but to convince diehard Xbox fans to pick up a Windows Phone.

I’d also like to see some refinements to the interface of Internet Explorer. Taking away the “forward” button in Windows Phone 7.5 still irks me and I’d love to see some of the gestures from Windows 8 make their way to Windows Phone 8.

Fundamentally, however, Windows Phone is solid. It’s now at a point for iterative improvements.

The larger issues with the platform are those that are harder to fix — getting developers to develop quality apps, making it easy for web sites to target the device and convincing users to give it a shot.

The Biggest Surprise

As I say in the video, my biggest surprise with Windows Phone 8 and the Lumia 920 was just how easily it integrates with platforms and services that are not tied to Microsoft.

I’m a Mac user and part of me was dreading using Windows Phone full-time, if only because of the issues related to desktop sync. While most of what I sync is now cloud-based, there are still times you need to connect to a computer, if only to transfer a full-sized image or HD video.

Microsoft’s Mac app isn’t perfect but I didn’t run into any issues with it on my MacBook Air, my iMac or the retina MacBook Pro I’m reviewing. It was easy to sync an iTunes playlist and videos and photos imported into iPhoto with ease.

Perhaps the bigger surprise was with how well Windows Phone 8 plays with other cloud-based systems. At Mashable, we use Google Apps and when I setup my Google account on Windows Phone, I was impressed with the following things:

  • IMAP push works correctly. Apple still can’t do this for Gmail, but Microsoft can. Kudos.

  • Calendar sync was spot-on.

  • Address book sync was perfect.

Another note about the address book. I found that I could search Mashable‘s corporate address book from within the mail app, the same way I could if it were LDAP on Exchange. The ActiveSync support for the device was truly top-notch, even for those of us who don’t use Microsoft or Exchange servers as our providers.

I was also very impressed with how well SkyDrive worked. It’s basically iCloud, but with the appearance of an actual file system. Trust me, sometimes one wants a file system (or at least a hierarchy of folders).

I’m Back on iPhone 5 … But

I’m back on the iPhone now. My job and the fact that I just paid AT&T and ETF to move to Verizon makes it unrealistic for me to move to Windows Phone full time (at least on the Lumia 920), even if it did have Instagram.

Still, as I say in the video above: I do want to continue carrying the Lumia 920. I want to follow the app story as it develops, but I also just like the platform. I can see using it as a way to instantly access emails and tasks in a way that isn’t as seamless on the iPhone.

Microsoft and Nokia’s marketing blitz is really paying off. Over Thanksgiving weekend, there were several instances where regular people off the street commented or approached me about the phone. The first time was at a diner in Union Square. The waitress recognized the phone and asked to take it to the back to show her co-worker who is obsessed with Windows 8.

Then, on Thanksgiving itself — as I was taking photos of my food (the Warren-Robertson household is not traditional, as we go out to eat on Thanksgiving) — other patrons in the restaurant recognized the Lumia and there were points and stares and murmurs about the device.

I never expected that. At all.

Have you switched from iOS (or Android) to Windows Phone? Let us know your experience in the comments.

Living With Lumia, Previous Installments:

BONUS: A Tour of the Nokia Lumia 920