Surface Phone seems to have hit the back burner as the focus within Microsoft has shifted towards enhancing the Windows 10 rather than new hardware.
Microsoft’s Lumia dilemma continues though it seems we might be heading towards something concrete this time round. Originally inherited from Nokia, the software giant has been making conscious attempts to distinguish the Lumia devices that so far have had a strong Nokia influence on them to be more oriented towards Microsoft.
While, it started with rebadging the devices as Microsoft Lumia and not Nokia Lumia – and rightfully so considering that Microsoft had also completed the acquisition of the Finnish phone maker by the time – what seems to be the current trend right now is to reorganize its entire mobile phone business all over again. And it will be interesting to see if the Lumia brand itself survives the massive rejig operation.
It is also understandable considering the not-so-impressive Lumia devices have led many to pin their hopes on the proverbial Surface Phone. Microsoft too is banking heavily on the Surface Phone to revive their fortunes in the hotly contested mobile segment just as the Surface Pro lineup did in the tablet and two-in-one hybrid devices segment.
How does Microsoft start?
The lack-lustre performance of Lumia phones never had to do with the performance, or for that matter, the hardware aspect of the devices. Instead, it’s Windows Phone that never clicked in a big way.
Not surprisingly, Microsoft has already started to clear the mess from the software front. And the killing of several of Lumia proprietary apps can be considered to be the first step towards that. Several Lumia apps such as Lumia Storyteller, Lumia Beamer, Photo Beamer, Lumia Panorama and Video Uploader, Lumia Refocus are already extinct now, and the latest to join the list is the discussion board, Lumia Voices.
Of course, the entire exercise is part of something far bigger that Microsoft has got into; reorganize its entire Windows 10 Mobile strategy; or even bigger still, the entire Windows 10 platform as a whole. And the new Surface Phone is at the front and center of it all as part of a long-term strategy adopted by the Redmond giant but more on that later.
The idea is to stoke developer’s interest into coming up with varied and more exciting apps for the entire Windows 10 platform as the focus now is to develop apps that cater to the entire hardware range, stretching from mobiles to tablets, PCs, and even the Xbox One console.
There also are similar efforts to lure in Android and iOS developers to port their apps to Windows 10. Towards that, while Project Astoria that targeted Android specifically might be dead but Project Islandwood continues to flourish. In meantime, Microsoft also acquired Xamarin that should be another good reason for developers to come up with Windows 10 apps.
In fact, it’s the behind-the-scenes activity that the Windows maker wishes to focus on intensely at the moment even if that means not much of a substantial development on the ground with Windows Phone, revealed Microsoft’s Windows and Devices head Terry Myerson at the Build 2016 event.
“We’re fully committed to that 4-inch screen, there will be a time for it to be our focus, but right now it’s part of the family, but it’s not the core of where I hope to generate developer interest over the next year,” said Myerson. “There’s no lack of recognition to realize how important that form factor is, but for Microsoft with Windows and for our platform it’s the wrong place for us to lead.”
Myerson also admitted the Windows Phone does not open up to a huge segment of the mobile user base at the moment which is why they are focussing at different segments at the moment.
“If you wanted to reach a lot of phone customers, Windows Phone isn’t the way to do it,” explained Myerson. “If you want to reach a lot of Windows customers, then this is the largest install base of 9 to 30-inch screens. If you wanted to do new and exciting things, then the Xbox and HoloLens is the place to have a discussion.”
That Windows Phone continues to be among the focus segment is amply clear when Myerson said, “We’re going to do some cool things with phones, but this year phones are an important part of our family but not the tip of the spear.”
The above though should come as a disappointment to those who might have been waiting for the Surface Phone, which was earlier rumored to arrive by the end of the year. Microsoft’s Surface division head, Panos Panay is already believed to be heavily involved with a new Surface-branded device having a smaller form factor. That is not all as the surfacephone.com domain too is getting redirected to the official Surface home page which is another proof of Microsoft already being in the advanced stages with the new Windows phones.
There were also rumors of Microsoft working on at least two iterations of what could be its new flagship range, Lumia X in addition to the Surface Phone. Lumia X was accidentally revealed by Microsoft China earlier in the year in a video demonstrating the Continuum feature, but it was quickly taken down. However, this has led many to believe there could eventually be two family of mobiles coming our way, the Lumia X catering to the normal users while the Surface Phone could be targeted at the business segment.
In contrast, the alleged Surface Phone will be among the priority areas within Microsoft is evident from the fact that the idea behind the phone is to let its OEM partners have a feel of what Windows 10 Mobile can offer to its users and how best to tap into the segment. The thought process has been demonstrated successfully with the Surface Pro 3 and Pro 4 devices, which have led to a deluge of 2-in-1 hybrid devices entering markets. Clearly, Microsoft is keen to emulate the same strategy in the smartphone segment, something that Google does with its Nexus range.
In any case, it is also a very welcome sign with Microsoft focussing more on developing the platform that the actual hardware will be based on. Industry watchers no doubt will be keenly watching the developments here.