The Rumored Microsoft Surface Phone Will Be Much More Than Just A Smartphone – Forbes
Microsoft Technical Fellow Alex Kipman recently said, “The phone is already dead — people just haven’t realized.” He made this statement while discussing Microsoft’s HoloLens and potential future iterations of similar mixed-reality devices, which could be eventually be integrated into our daily lives much like the smartphone is today.
Kipman may be right. But that future is a long way off, and Microsoft has effectively vanished from the current smartphone market. A few of Microsoft’s partners continue to offer Windows Phones – like HP, for example – but Microsoft discontinued production of its own Lumia-branded smartphones and has not made any new product announcements in the space.
In a recent interview, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was asked if the company has any plans to make new smartphones, to which he answered in the affirmative. When talking on marketplace.org’s “Make Me Smart” podcast, Nadella said, “Will we make more phones? I’m sure we will make more phones, but they will not look like phones that are there today.”
So, we’ve got Kipman claiming the phone is dead, while Nadella suggests new Microsoft smartphones are coming. Well, which is it? I believe Microsoft has a new ultra-portable device in the works, which will have a pocketable form-factor like a smartphone, but will be fully compatible with the entire Windows 10 ecosystem, including desktop applications. This device could be the rumored Surface Phone, but I don’t believe Microsoft will call it that. A Surface Mini or Surface P (for Pocket), or something along those lines, is more likely.
At this point, Microsoft’s chances of gaining any meaningful share from iOS or Android in the smartphone market is very slim. Instead, the company will attempt to invent a new category of devices that can replace a smartphone, but may not be marketed as smartphones. Much in the same way that 2-in-One devices like the popular Surface and Surface Pro (and their competition) have dominated the tablet market as of late, I believe Microsoft’s plan will be to offer a viable smartphone alternative that can offer much more than a traditional smartphone.
A few years back, a short while after showing Word running on an ARM-based processor, we got Windows RT and the original Surface devices (non-Pro). That OS ultimately failed, partly due to its incompatibility with traditional Windows applications, which led to widespread confusion with consumers. More recently, however, and on multiple occasions, Microsoft has shown full Windows 10 running on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 SoC. That version of Windows 10 runs natively on ARM processor cores, but can also run desktop x86 / x64 applications using Windows-On-Windows and a new emulator developed by Microsoft. The Snapdragon 835 is the very same SoC used in the Samsung Galaxy S8, so there is no reason we couldn’t see a device with a similar form factor to the Galaxy S8 running full-blown Windows 10.
Instead of marketing a pure smartphone, Microsoft could try to sell consumers on “Windows 10 your pocket”. The app-gap on the Windows Phone platform versus iOS and Android is very real, and the situation won’t be getting better. Despite what some believe is a superior mobile platform, Windows Phone simply doesn’t have the same level of developer support of the big two. But a Surface Mini (or Surface Pocket), that is capable of running the same applications as a Surface Pro or Surface Studio, that can also double as a smartphone, may have more appeal — especially in the enterprise space.
I’m speculating, of course, but many of the elements are in place for Microsoft to offer such a device.