Surface Phone needs to be unique to revive Windows Phone

Martin Brinkmann
Sep 16, 2016

Windows Phone looks like a dying platform. The platform did not do well when Nokia was still producing phones for it, and it did even worse after Microsoft's acquisition of the company.

No new phones in a while from Microsoft, and it looks as if the company made the decision to let the Lumia brand of Windows Phones die off completely.

Third-parties are still manufacturing devices and even putting out new devices, but they are usually aimed at the business and enterprise market, and not consumers.

The HP Elite x3 for instance is such a device. It runs Windows 10 Mobile and currently available for preorder at $799.

If you compare new devices for the Windows 10 Mobile platform to Android or even Apple, you will notice that little is happening there right now in terms of hardware.

Microsoft seems to have stopped producing phones altogether, and except for the occasional announcement by a third-party manufacturer, there is little to report on that front.

Rumor has it that Microsoft is working on a Surface phone to revitalize Windows 10 Mobile. Microsoft managed to carve out a niche in the laptop market with its Surface devices in the past couple of years.

These devices have been well received all in all, and are perceived as high quality devices for the most part.

Surface Phone

Can a single device, or a device family, revitalize Windows 10 Mobile? If Microsoft plans to release a Surface Phone or phones, it seems likely that the devices will share traits with the company's current Surface laptop lineup.

This would mean excellent build quality and hardware.

But that may not be enough to help kickstart Windows 10 Mobile, considering that Apple and several Android manufacturers are also producing high quality devices. If you add the application disadvantage on the Windows platform, you see why Microsoft needs to bring more to the table than just a great device.

To help Windows 10 Mobile, Surface Phone needs to provide unique features that are useful and attractive to users.

Sure, you can try to price the device aggressively and this will surely help as well, but it seems unlikely that this is enough to convince Android or Apple iOS users to switch platforms. This is especially true if you consider that app availability on Windows 10 is still severely lacking behind.

So what could Microsoft add to its Surface Phone that would make the device unique and therefore an attractive choice?

Cutting edge hardware would certainly help: best in class camera, battery life or storage for instance. But that is just another level in the arms race and can be matched for the most part by other manufacturers.

One feature that would set a Surface Phone apart would be support for legacy Windows programs. While it seems unlikely that this is ever going to happen, support for Win32 applications would resolve several of the issues that Windows 10 Mobile is facing right now.

First, it would push the available programs past what is available for Android or iOS. Second, it would make the device attractive to Windows users who might like the idea of running applications they use on a daily basis on a mobile device.

Microsoft pushes its Universal Windows Platform, and introduced an option recently to bring Win32 and Net programs to UWP by using a program called Desktop Bridge. These converted programs work only on PCs running Windows 10 after the conversion though.

The focus on UWP, and the fact that desktop programs on a mobile device would be a usability nightmare for the most part, make this very unlikely though.

Another unique feature that could set the Surface Phone apart from others would be an option to use it for a variety of convenience features.  Continuum is a step in the right direction, but how about tying the device closer to PCs?

Carry portable desktop programs around on it that you may run on any device you connect the device to, sync data automatically, use it as a password manager and for authentication.

Now You: What do Surface Phones need to offer to help Windows 10 Mobile?

Surface Phone needs to be unique to revive Windows Phone
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Surface Phone needs to be unique to revive Windows Phone
What do Surface Phones need to bring to the table to attract new customers to the Windows 10 Mobile platform, and revive Windows Phone?
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  1. Rob said on September 21, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    It seems no one ever to asks why Unix/MacOS never really made it in the desktop market. If alternatives are as superior as some claim, why is that? Is it because there are different “distributions” and things here don’t work there, etc.? Personally, I am not vested in a “brand”, couldn’t care less, I just don’t want two systems to contend with. I use my desktop/laptop all the time, got all the tools I could ever need and more. To me, 6,000,000 apps in a store is overkill, I use what, like 20-30 or so?

  2. EEman said on September 18, 2016 at 10:47 pm

    As a Windows power user, I grudgingly utilize an Android phone for mobile uses. I use it to make phone calls, email, text, and GPS but not much else. Everything else I do on a PC, web, multimedia, social media, etc. which includes running engineering software for my job as an electrical engineer. I love the horsepower and flexibility of a real operating system, a CISC processor vs the two mobile “RISC/ARM” options “Android” and “iOS” which seem restrictive and primitive as compared to what you can accomplish on a PC. I would ditch the laptop and Android in a moment for a real x86 phone that can run my legacy x86 software. I would never return to android and iOS, well actually, iPhone never really was enticing in the first place. I don’t want to be a “co-owner” of my gadgets with Apple.

  3. Anonymous said on September 18, 2016 at 7:14 pm

    “Third-parties are still manufacturing devices and even putting out new devices, but they are usually aimed at the business and enterprise market, and not consumers.”..

    All Third-parties combined sell about 100,000 Windows Phone in a year !

  4. Gio said on September 17, 2016 at 10:23 am

    They should integrate features tested in the McLaren demo phone Nokia had brewing. Having a screen that can sense my finger without actually touching it would be awesome.

    1. Dave said on September 18, 2016 at 11:35 am

      …but all their testing showed that the feature was:

      a) confusing – users couldn’t master the feature and had no reason to want to try to.
      b) deterring – users would rather use a phone that didn’t have the feature than one that did.

      …so why is this what Microsoft “should” do? It seems more suited to Nintendo.

  5. Jozsef said on September 17, 2016 at 6:48 am

    Blackberry is still alive and proving how little users or corporations really care about privacy and security. Of course if you use their feature of running Android apps then you have to allow complete access and control of practically everything for almost every single one of them. The Amazon App Store app for example has the right to create or delete contacts, photographs, videos or pretty much anything else on my phone. It can’t be changed.

  6. Jason said on September 17, 2016 at 12:07 am

    The bridging of desktop and mobile technologies would not be enough to save the WindowsPhone platform, since so many competitors are already going in that direction.

    What would I do if I were Microsoft CEO? Make the Surface phone a BUSINESS TOOL, i.e. a really serious device that filled the gap left by the demise of Blackberry. But that couldn’t happen without a commitment to user privacy…. Oops.

  7. George said on September 16, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    It’s quite astonishing how they keep trying to bring the Desktop closer to the mobile platform (while ruining it in the process, the Desktop I mean), when the actual mobile platform has been left on its own luck.

    Keep them separate Microsoft, it’s only way to improve each one of them. You are ruining both otherwise.

  8. A or B, not C. said on September 16, 2016 at 3:15 pm

    In a weird way, M$ r likely glad to see Windows Phone failing n Android succeeding.

  9. JasonR said on September 16, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    It’s a shame, because the OS itself (before they started making it generic to ‘fit in with the norm’) is/was absolutely beautiful. They may not really work on a desktop OS, but the Live Tiles are great on a Phone, and make the static icons of iOS and Android look dated by comparison.

    Nadella is happy to watch it die a slow death, but how they think they’re going to make any sort of a play in mobile after this treatment of it is anyone’s guess. Frankly, if they’re driving Users to iOS and Android with the idea that they’ll keep using Microsoft services on them, they should think again.

  10. Dave... said on September 16, 2016 at 10:54 am

    Here’s my thoughts:

    If the developer of the most successful and profitable mobile game ever couldn’t be bothered to claim the extra revenue available from Windows Phone users, then who will bother? Windows Phone no longer matters. Even Microsoft develops for iPhone first and Windows Phone last.

    Time and again Microsoft has broken promises and left its users behind. Updates have been poor. Apps are inferior. These are lessons learned over many years. Nothing will change now that their market share is plummeting. No-one is interested in their failed OS, and the incentives to use it – Microsoft Apps – are common to Android and iPhone now.

    More than half of the 600+ Windows Phone apps I’ve downloaded over the years are no longer on the store because the devs have given up on this unprofitable market. Where have they gone? Many have gone to iOS. Many to Android (G-APIs). Few remain. And thanks Microsoft, for disallowing me to use the apps that I paid for already. Maybe take a look at how Valve handles this fro inspiration. Even Apple lets you back-up and keep your apps after they leave the store.

    There’s nothing Microsoft can do now; they waited too long. No amount of hardware is enough to trick people into their poorly maintained buggy ecosystem again. Smartphone hardware is already good enough. The battle is being fought in software now, and that’s where Apple wins for regular users, and AOSP wins for power users. Windows Phone is no good for anyone.

    Under Steve Ballmer Windows Phone had one trump card: privacy, but Satya Nadella has done away with that. iOS and Cyanogen are the systems for people who read EULAs.

    Buying and killing Nokia has only postponed the inevitable failure of Windows Phone by a few years, at great cost to the world’s smartphone market.

    The tiles are still good, but even now you can’t pin half the stuff that would make that system useful. You can’t even pin an email, and don’t get me started on just trying to add a PDF attachment – not possible.

    The best thing about Windows Phone is Rainbow Rapture by Kindling.


    1. lencc said on September 18, 2016 at 12:56 pm

      Very well said. In a very competitive market (such as mobile software), where you can’t compete only with copying features from others, you have to stick to your unique competitive advantages. It’s economics 101.

      Microsoft failed by eliminating many features, which were good in Windows Phone. On the other hand, they “copied” mostly the worst from the competition: no-privacy approach and rushed release cycle with semifinished software. In my opinion, they should develop and update the most “critical” apps (i.e. the most popular apps from competitive app stores) on their own, if no 3rd party developer wants to develop them and keep them updated.

      They didn’t do it, despite their app assortment is poor. Still, they are interfering in their app store by eliminating the abandoned apps, which keeps users angry and UNCERTAIN. Thereby they buried their most valuable sense (what MS used to be): a STABLE company, which may lack some (or many) features, but it’s the one users can rely on. Instead, they adopted Google’s approach of constantly testing & releasing (buggy) features and apps and then abandoning them.

      In fact, it’s weird how a multi billion company cannot find a group of good market strategists to lead the way using easy-to-grasp basic principles and some common sense.

  11. Sais said on September 16, 2016 at 9:29 am

    Windows Phone OS feels fresh by appearance but lack of apps is a huge issue. Besides, it is not as capable as Android. I would have liked an Android competitor which cannot be modified (ruined) too much by the OEMs.

  12. Adithya FRK said on September 16, 2016 at 7:49 am

    I am an android lover myself and i hate iOS. But I have to admit, Windows phone was one of the best operating system Microsoft made. It’s isolated nature meant it didn’t need an anti virus software. One of the most beautiful and simplest UI I have ever seen that I recommended my mom one.
    WP brought something fresh and new to the table of tired designs. Also, the only time I loved Internet Explorer.
    To sum up, Android is the best and advanced for anyone. iOS is for toddlers. Windows phone is for simple users. It’s a shame it was left abandoned.

  13. Danny said on September 16, 2016 at 7:38 am

    Sadly, Microsoft is bound to bungle it up again as only they can. The Windows Phone platform started off with huge promise, and MS had the possibility to create a flawless and seamless experience with its Windows desktop OS. Instead, MS keeps to its tried and true motto: “Giving you tomorrow’s technology – at some point in future!”

    I was a big fan of the WP design and concept, and am sorely disappointed with where that platform is currently, a few years later.

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