Microsoft’s Surface Phone Does Not Need Exciting Hardware – Forbes

This weekend has seen online discussion over a Microsoft patent describing a hinged display on a mobile device. While the patent is of interest to designers and reflects one potential future of a smartphone, I don’t think it reflects Microsoft’s current strategic thinking.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (image: Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)


Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (image: Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

As with all patents, there can be a significant period of time between the patent being submitted, being published and subsequently appearing in a commercial device. Given Microsoft’s focus on developing its own hardware, it does not surprise me that patents such as a foldable screen would be coming out of its research center.

In 2015, Microsoft was still heavily involved in the mobile phone hardware game, with the Lumia range of devices continuing to champion Windows 10 on mobile devices. Q4 2015 saw the release of the Lumia 950 and the 950XL, the Surface range of ultraportables and laptops were becoming established in the minds of consumers, and partners like HP were returning to the Windows 10 Mobile fold.

It’s now two years later, and I’m not sure that Microsoft is ready to heavily invest in new mobile hardware. I’m still confident that there will be a Surface Phone in some form in the future. But that Surface Phone is more likely to focus on the software capabilities of Microsoft’s Cloud as a primary feature, rather that innovative hardware and curious form factors.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has moved Microsoft’s mobile strategy from Steve Ballmer’s attempt to dominate the hardware and operating system layer towards winning the cloud space. Consumers with an Android- or iOS-powered device have easy access to Microsoft’s services through apps such as Office and Outlook, all free to download from the respective app stores (the same is true for macOS and Windows 10 on desk-bound computers). This is where Microsoft can build up a significant volume of active users – not in fighting for market share against the dominant Google and Apple hardware platforms.

Microsoft Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL (image: Ewan Spence)

Ewan Spence

Microsoft Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL (image: Ewan Spence)

Redefining what mobile hardware can do should not be a priority for Microsoft. Redefining what mobile software can do should be. When the Surface Phone does appear, expect it to max out the specifications, to had a refined and fashionably expensive look and expect it to be one of the best platforms for Windows 10 possible.

Don’t expect it to have any radical technology that deviates from the now-traditional assumption of what a mobile phone looks like. Hinged displays, buttons lurking in the air, or capacitive edges are all great ideas, but they change how the mobile phone works at a fundamental level. At the moment that’s not Microsoft’s goal or ambition.

Now read why the Surface Phone may still be the ultimate mobile device…

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