Microsoft Developing New Smartphones for Late 2017, News Reports Say

Rather than abandon it's struggling mobile phone business news leaks suggest the company is preparing new models for release in late 2017.

Microsoft Mobile Plans 2

Microsoft may be following BlackBerry into smartphone obscurity, but the Redmond, Wash., software giant refuses to give up.

Windows clings to a scant 0.4 percent of the smartphone operating system (OS) market, according to Gartner's latest analysis. Microsoft's mobile OS ran on fewer than 1.5 million of the total 373 million smartphones sold worldwide in the third quarter of 2016. During the same quarter a year ago, Microsoft claimed sales of nearly 5.9 million Windows smartphones for a 1.7-percent share of the overall market.

Instead of throwing in the towel, news leaks suggest that Microsoft is making a renewed push to challenge the galaxy of Android devices and Apple iPhones that currently dominate the smartphone market.

Nokia Power User is reporting that Microsoft is readying a late-2017 Surface Phone launch. Judging by an early prototype, the device will sport a Snapdragon 835 processor and 6 GB of RAM.

Intriguingly, the smartphone is said to be able to run x86 applications in Continuum, a mode-switching technology present in Windows smartphones, like HP's Elite x3 handset. Continuum delivers a desktop-like experience, complete with mouse and keyboard support, when connected to compatible docks, accessories and displays.

Eagle-eyed members of the Windows Insider early-access program have spotted possible evidence that Microsoft is working on x86-on-ARM64 emulation technology for its upcoming Windows 10 "Redstone 3" update. If successful, it will essentially enable ARM-based Windows devices to run x86 software, potentially allowing users to use full-featured Windows applications in Continuum mode.

So far, Microsoft has been able to install x86 apps using the emulation technology, but hasn't yet been able to successfully run them, according to the report. Another early prototype sports just 4GB of RAM and runs a version of Windows 10 mobile that doesn't support x86 Windows apps. Other features include Quick Charge 4.0 support and an estimated 5.5-inch QHD (quad high definition) screen.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's CEO, Satya Nadella, has been signaling that his company is taking a step back from the consumer smartphone market and instead is focusing on productivity, security and device management for its next round of mobile devices.

"We will continue to be in the phone market not as defined by today's market leaders, but by what it is that we can uniquely do in what is the most ultimate mobile device," Nadella recently told The Australian Financial Review.

Microsoft's checkered smartphone past includes the ill-fated acquisition of Nokia's Devices and Services business, initiated in 2013 by Nadella's predecessor, Steve Ballmer. In the summer of 2015, the company took a massive write-off related to the deal.

With what's left of the Nokia handset business, Microsoft has "stopped doing things that were me-too and started doing things, even if they are today very sub-scale, to be very focused on a specific set of customers who need a specific set of capabilities that are differentiated and that we can do a good job of," added Nadella.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of...