This is all starting to remind me of the time Microsoft decided to bale on the browser market.
After effectively shutting down their mobile division this week by firing 1,850 employees, most of them in Finland, Satya Nadella has shut the door firmly on any new smartphones....except one. He made it clear that Microsoft will stay in the mix and focus their efforts, which is one way of suggesting the famous tech juggernaut is making a Surface smartphone. Mark my words: It will happen.
Here’s why it makes so much sense.
Microsoft and Apple both have the luxury of being iconic brands. They don’t need to make ten smartphones, one for every possible user segment. They only need to make one or two and brand them as the “halo” model.
That’s why it’s so easy to buy a Surface tablet (and why market share is going up). You either get the true tablet with a cover keyboard (the Surface Pro 4) or the laplet hybrid which has a “real” keyboard. It’s bone-dead simple. You walk into the Microsoft Store and say you want a Surface tablet. In the next year, I’m predicting you will walk in and ask about the Surface phone. It will match up perfectly in terms of the color, packaging, interface, and even the same basic feature set and apps.
But hold on a second. A Surface phone that competes with the current crop of Android models, and what is likely to be an iPhone 7 with an AMOLED screen coming next year, needs a few important features if it will have any chance at all. Forget the “pocket desktop” idea with the Lumia 950 and 950XL. That’s a bit like taking a flashy and sleek all-aluminum sports-car and suggesting you can also use it to haul rocks for a landscaping project.
I thoroughly tested the 950 models with a monitor, keyboard, and mouse and I liked the idea but in practice it doesn’t make sense in the long term. A phone should not be a computer. A phone should be a phone, and all that implies as far as apps, talking to an AI assistant, getting directions, and playing games. What we want is for a phone to replace a computer someday, to not require so much typing and using a mouse forever. It might sound like semantics, but forcing a phone into the computer paradigm doesn’t make sense. What we want is a more advanced phone.
Here are a few features the Surface phone will need:
1. Modular design
If the Surface phone isn’t modular, it won’t stand out. LG already makes the G5 that has modules you snap into place for taking photos using real focus, zoom, and shutter buttons, better speakers (which is not for the U.S. market yet) and an extended battery. Lenovo makes the X1 tablet that has modules for a projector, 3D scanner, and an extra battery. A Surface phone should use a similar concept with even better modules for a high-end camera, extra storage, a battery, a 3D scanner, a projector, and many others. Also, these modules should ship concurrently with the device, not as add-ons that start shipping months or years later.
2. 4K AMOLED screen
One of the big problems with the Lumia line is that they looked like every other phone, People buy smartphones these days that make Netflix pop. They already have a few apps they like, but they upgrade because of the screen. The Surface phone needs an outstanding high-res screen, one that runs in 4K (unlike the iPhone) with a bright, colorful, and super-crisp screen. You should take one look at the Surface phone and immediately want to buy it because of the screen.
3. Incredible battery life
Another way to truly differentiate from most Android models and the iPhone is to make a phone that last three or four days. This is the current state of most fitness watches. When a device like the Basis Peak or the Fitbit Blaze last for four days, it means less hassle charging up every day. You forget they even need a charge. While some Android phones and even the iPhone have an extended battery mode, I’m not talking about crippling the features to extend the battery. I mean, a phone that lasts four days for everyday use due to some advancement in battery tech.
4. Something extra
Modular design, an incredibly screen, amazing battery life. That will make the Surface phone stand out. What will pave the way for a newly invigorated Microsoft with an eye on a mobile future? Something they invent in the lab that we have never seen before. A slight curve to the display won’t work. Maybe the Surface phone will cast a holographic image. Maybe it will have such an amazing camera that it will work for telepresence. Maybe it will use such strong encryption that it will make the enterprise rush to buy them. Who knows? If the Surface phone has a chance, it will need to do something we’ve never seen before.