I’ve been hearing about it for as long as I can remember, or at least since Microsoft launched the Surface brand. The Surface Phone would be Microsoft’s entry into smart phone hardware. I suppose it’s only natural. When Amazon launched Kindle Fire, people asked for a Fire Phone. When Microsoft launched Surface tablets, people asked for a Surface Phone.
Of course, that was 2012 when Surface Phone only meant Microsoft’s entry into mobile hardware. Surface Phone hopes and rumors have become more and more prevalent as time went on and the definition of Surface Phone has evolved accordingly.
Microsoft bought Nokia, adopting Lumia as their smart phone hardware brand. Of course, that didn’t end the Surface Phone speculation. Today, the rumors and hopes for a Surface Phone are stronger than ever.
But what does Surface Phone even mean?
After all, Surface is nothing more than a brand. If Microsoft somehow made a phone that had everything that everyone wants from a Surface Phone but was branded as a Lumia, people would still be asking for a Surface Phone.
What is a Surface Phone?
This is a question that I’ve asked many people over a long period of time. A year ago, the general consensus was that a Surface Phone would have a metal body. That’s about it. Maybe it would have a kickstand as well. After all, HTC did it on their Evo and users loved it.
Today, Surface Phone means a whole lot more. Ever since Microsoft announced Continuum for phones back in April, Surface Phone means an x86 processor in a phone.
Continuum allows users to plug in their phone to a monitor and use Universal apps as desktop apps. Of course, the Windows app ecosystem isn’t strong, so users think that x86 is the answer, as it would allow users to run Win32 apps.
Welcome to Surface Phone. It’s the phone that runs full Windows on an x86 processor, it has a metal body, and it has a kickstand.
There is still no real evidence that a Surface Phone exists. When writing reviews for the brand new Windows 10 Mobile flagships, the Microsoft Lumia 950 and the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL, it’s incredible how often I hear the words, “I’m just going to wait until the Surface Phone comes out next year.”
The Delusions of the Surface Phone
I’m a Windows Phone fan and I write a lot about Microsoft, Windows, and Windows Phone, so I talk to a lot of other Windows Phone fans. As Windows Phone fans, we tend to be a bit…delusional.
A large portion of Windows Phone fans believe that there’s a “golden ticket” out there that would make Windows Phone successful. I hear it all the time. “If Microsoft had only…”
If we just had the apps…
If Microsoft has just rebranded…
If people would just try it…
Microsoft showed up too late to the game…
Everyone has already chosen a platform…
We all make excuses. We all tend to think that there’s one thing that could change that would make Windows Phone successful, such as more apps or different branding.
Microsoft seems to have this mindset as well. Windows Phone 7 didn’t take off so they scrapped it for Windows Phone 8. When Windows Phone 8.1 launched, Cortana was slated to be the savior of the platform. When Cortana proved to not be the golden ticket, they realized that they’re successful on the low end, so they began a race to the bottom.
The truth is that there is no golden ticket to making Windows Phone successful. Making an x86 phone isn’t suddenly going to make the platform successful.
In fact, making an x86 phone isn’t even going to resolve the so-called “app gap”. Being able to run Visual Studio on your phone isn’t going to change the fact that you can’t get a decent Instagram client.
It Wouldn’t Even Help
Making an x86 Windows Phone wouldn’t help the platform. It would hurt it. First of all, Intel doesn’t have a proper processor to put in a Surface Phone. Maybe they could stick an Atom processor in there, but it’s not going to allow you to run Visual Studio, Access, or probably even iTunes.
It’s a situation of being careful what you wish for. There’s a reason that 99% of smart phones use ARM processors. They’re more efficient and they’re more powerful for their use case. In fact, Intel doesn’t have a decent mobile option.
Then there’s the fact that the vast majority of consumers have no interest in using their phone like they would a full Windows PC. The Surface Phone wouldn’t have a mass audience, something that Microsoft has stated that they want when they swore off the idea of making a successor to the Nokia Lumia 1020.
The reality of what could save the platform is that Microsoft simply has to make it a priority. Apple’s top priority is to give you the best iPhone experience that they can possibly provide. Android is pretty high on Google’s list as well.
The fact is that Windows Phone just isn’t very high on Microsoft’s list. Until they can commit to the amount of resources that Apple and Google are willing to provide to mobile, they simply can’t compete.