It seemed inevitable that Microsoft would create a Surface Phone — not an official name — after it acquired Nokia. In fact, there was talk long before that too, but Microsoft has often denied those rumors and stuck with producing new Lumia phones. However, rumors and leaks regarding such a device have continued, suggesting it’s something the company may still be considering. Here’s everything we think we know about Microsoft’s Surface Phone project.
Microsoft may wait until late 2017 to release Surface Phone
After the Surface Phone failed to make an appearance at Microsoft’s 2016 BUILD conference, two reports from Windows Central quoting sources close to the matter, said Microsoft could wait until early 2017 to release the new device. The site’s late April report states April 2017 is the current target for the new smartphone. The first report said that instead of one Surface Phone, Microsoft could release three models. Early plans for the Surface Phone release allegedly suggest that there will be a consumer model, a business model, and an “enthusiast” model, or a high-spec version for tech geeks. Details about possible specs for the devices or what the difference will be between the three models have yet to be released.
The rumored timing of the Surface Phone has recently been pushed out to late 2017. This follows statements by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in November 2016 that provides a tiny bit of clarification to Microsoft’s official position on smartphones. Specifically, Nadella indicated that Microsoft does not want to simply compete with the industry leaders with a “me-too” device but rather wants to focus its efforts and develop the “ultimate” mobile devices. If one reads between the lines, it would seem that the Surface Phone will be a high-end smartphone that’s possibly aimed at providing very specific value to the business market, serving as a halo device for Microsoft’s long-term mobile strategy, or some combination of both.
Redstone 2 and 3 to improve Windows 10 Mobile
The Windows 10 ‘Redstone’ update, also known as the Windows 10 Anniversary update, came and went without any more information on the Surface Phone. The Anniversary Update provided a number of new features to smartphones, but nothing earth-shattering, and it will be the next two versions of the operating system that will focus on “innovation around mobile phones,” according to multiple sources speaking to Windows Central.
Redstone 2 and Redstone 3 aren’t expected until early and late 2017, respectively, the latter of which fits in with the prospective Surface Phone launch date now being rumored. When Redstone 3 does arrive, the resulting Surface Phone will apparently be promoted as the most secure phone in the world and the best for productivity. Part of this may include native support for Win32 apps provided by an enhanced version of the Continuum PC-like environment created when a Windows 10 Mobile device is connected to an external display, keyboard, and mouse.
The Lumia 950 and 950 XL offers some compatibility with x86 apps through Continuum, but no way to use them natively. Making them run on the phone without the help of a more powerful and expensive machine, might be a killer feature for power users. However, it’s warned the feature may be dropped before launch, if the experience isn’t polished enough.
Microsoft’s intention, say the sources, is to make the future Surface phone a true alternative to a PC, using both this feature and Continuum.
Benchmarks and high-end specs rumored, then quashed
A phone running Windows 10 and the Edge browser was spotted on the HTML5test benchmarking website in late November 2015. According to PocketNow, the version of Windows 10 was old, and one which was never released outside of the company, while the Edge browser was also older than the existing versions. The rumor suggested the phone was in testing for some time, and was likely an abandoned Nokia-derived device.
More recently, Intel rumors have been challenged by Intel’s scaling back its mobile SoC market. Now, it appears that Microsoft will be working to emulate the x86 environment in 64-bit Windows 10 Mobile to provide support for full Windows desktop applications. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 SoC has been rumored to power the Surface Phone along with 64-bit Windows 10 Mobile. Two versions are alleged, including a 6GB RAM version with the version of Continuum supporting x86 applications and a 4GB RAM version without it.
Microsoft purchased surfacephone.com
If you’re looking for a hint that Microsoft will introduce a Surface Phone sometime in the future, then look no further than one Reddit user’s discovery in late January 2016. It appears that Microsoft owns surfacephone.com, and the company even went as far as redirecting it to the main Surface website.
Before you go jumping for joy, this is far from a confirmation that Microsoft is readying a Surface Phone. Often, companies like to stay out of legal trouble by registering domain names that correlate with a current product.