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 April 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, say Microsoft may actually 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.
While that news is certainly disappointing, there is some good to come of it. The first report said that instead of one Surface Phone, Microsoft might 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.
Redstone 2 and 3 to improve Windows 10 Mobile
The Windows 10 ‘Redstone’ update, also known as the Windows 10 Anniversary update, was originally linked to the Surface Phone’s release, but this appears to have changed. While the new software is expected to bring new features to mobile, the next two versions of the operating system will focus on, “innovation around mobile phones,” according to multiple sources speaking to Windows Central.
Redstone 2 and Redstone 3 aren’t expected until 2017, fitting in with the prospective Surface Phone launch date being rumored. When the new versions do 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, which has been previously rumored by the same publication.
Intel is apparently heavily involved in the development of the new Surface Phone, and is supposedly working with Microsoft to make x86 apps (Windows desktop apps) compatible with the Surface Phone. That would be a huge leap in app availability, something that has plagued Windows Phone for years, by bringing over thousands of compatible desktop apps to the Surface Phone.
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.
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.
We also need to point out that surfacephone.com was actually registered in May 2007, so it’s not like Microsoft recently purchased it to get ready for a new Surface Phone launch.
Furthermore, Microsoft’s Surface page is within microsoft.com as in https://www.microsoft.com/surface/. Microsoft isn’t even using surface.com for its current crop of Surface devices, so why would the company use surfacephone.com for a Surface Phone if it gets released? And by the way, Microsoft registered surface.com back in 1994 and is redirecting it to you know where … its main Surface Web page.
While this news doesn’t confirm a Surface Phone will exist some day, it does give hope that the Redmond company might be at least thinking about it. Hopefully it’s more than that.
Microsoft executive hints about a better phone
Those looking for a sliver of information about the rumored Surface Mobile device may want to take note of what Microsoft’s Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela said on This Week in Tech’s Windows Weekly podcast.
“We need more breakthrough work … with Surface we had a bunch of early misfires, but that notion of a tablet that could replace your laptop — that notion of saying, ‘Hey, Apple wants to sell you an iPad and they want to sell you a Mac, we think there’s one device that exploits the seam between those two devices’ — we need some sort of spiritual equivalent on the phone side that doesn’t just feel like a phone for people who love Windows,” Capossela said on the podcast.
“It has got to be a phone that’s sort of like ‘wow, that’s a real shocker,’ or ‘that’s a real breakthrough,’ and has got to make me pause before I buy my 17th iPhone, and we need time to actually go built that.”
The question arises around the 36-minute mark, after tech writer Mary Jo Foley expresses her dismay at the current Windows Phone environment. Capossela made no mention of whether this “breakthrough” phone will be a part of the Surface line, and this new information only reaffirms that the device is indeed being developed by the company.
Rumored change in mobile strategy as Panos Panay takes charge
A report from Windows Central suggests that the Surface phone rumored earlier in the year has been cancelled, in favor of a new Surface phone being built by the Surface team, led by Panos Panay. The old Surface Phone was apparently part of Nokia’s plans, which may have been scrapped when Panay took charge of the Devices division at Microsoft earlier this year.
The phone was previously referred to as the ‘Panos Phone’ according to Windows Central’s sources, though it has recently changed to becoming the Surface Phone, hinting it may have shifted from a pet project to something more official. Panos Panay is in charge of the team that designed the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book, meaning we may see a smartphone with a similar design.
Rumors have spread about a Surface phone for years. In a WIRED profile on Microsoft’s Head of Devices Panos Panay recently, it’s mentioned that work was going ahead on, “a prototype of a new phone” at Microsoft’s HQ, indicating the firm is testing its own phones built internally. For now though, none of this is official, and everything could change again between now and the possible early 2017 release.
Benchmarks and high-end specs
Before this, a phone running Windows 10 and the Edge browser was spotted on the HTML5test benchmarking website in late November. 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. It suggests the phone has been in testing for sometime, and is likely the abandoned Nokia-derived device.
Rumors spread in November 2015 suggested all we’d heard about the old Surface phone has been consigned to the history books. For example, according to a report from Windows Mobile Power User, Microsoft may have wanted to launch a Surface phone in late 2015 or in early 2016. The publication’s sources say it would have been marketed under the name of Microsoft Surface Mobile, and being developed under the codename Project Juggernaut Alpha. The device reportedly sported an aluminum and magnesium unibody with powerhouse specs. The latest rumors say a ‘metal’ Surface phone project has been abandoned.
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It was stated the screen would be a 5.5-inch AMOLED with a Quad HD (2560 x 1440 pixel) resolution and have a ClearBlack Gorilla Glass 4 cover for protection. Moving to the inside, the phone may have had an Intel Atom x3 (SoFIA) 64-bit processor, along with 4GB of RAM. Other features mentioned included 64GB or 128GB of internal storage, and a MicroSD slot. A 21-megapixel PureView Zeiss 6-lens camera was supposedly going to be fitted on the back and an 8-megapixel Zeiss wide-angle lens on the front.
There’s every chance the phone described will never be released, if the metal, Nokia-designed phone has really been cancelled.
Only concepts give us a clue about design
Unfortunately we have no idea what any Surface Mobile phone will look like, but concept renders were created by Nadir Aslam earlier this year. While the final Surface Mobile phone might not look like these renders, they give as a good idea of its possible productivity attributes.
The Surface Phone remains far from official, but we’ll keep you updated here with news and rumors about the device.
Updated on 04-27-2016 by Andy Boxall: Added further rumors pointing to a 2017 release, and comments on how a future Windows 10 update will affect mobile for Microsoft
Updated on 04-05-2016 by Christian de Looper: Added news that Microsoft may be looking at releasing three versions of Surface Phone, but not until 2017.
Updated on 01-27-2016 by Robert Nazarian: Added in news that Microsoft purchased the surfacephone.com domain.
Updated on 12-28-2015 by Julian Chokkattu: Added in news of Microsoft’s Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela mentioning information of a new device the company is hard at work on.
Updated on 12-o3-2015 by David Curry: Added in rumors of new Surface Phone coming in the second half 2016.
Updated on 11-19-2015 by Andy Boxall: Added in a leaked benchmark test for a possible Surface Phone.