Microsoft Exec Stokes Surface Phone Rumors

Surface Phone rumors resurface after Microsoft's CMO discusses the tech giant's smartphone strategy for 2016.

Microsoft phones

Windows is a distant third when pitted against Android and Apple iOS smartphones, and Microsoft is very aware of its low-single-digit toehold on the competitive market, according to Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela.

In a Windows Weekly podcast, Capossela said during an interview that Microsoft is "very cognizant of our position in the phone world, and frankly, we've done the hard yards to retrench and have an approach that in this coming year is very much about trying to satisfy our fans and trying to have a great success in the business world for businesses that want to buy phones for their employees." Achieving that success will hinge on applying the lessons the Redmond, Wash., technology company learned with its Surface line of tablets.

Capossela's comments indicate that Microsoft's efforts will involve more than merely slapping the Surface brand on a next-generation Lumia phone. After admitting that his company needed "to do more breakthrough work" in hardware, user experience and app support to help level the playing field and "compete for a 15-year-old's dollars on a phone," Capossela strongly hinted that the company's smartphone unit is taking its cues from Surface, particularly how it "exploits the seam between" tablets and PCs.

"We need some sort of spiritual equivalent on the phone side that doesn't just feel like it's a phone for people who love Windows," Capossela continued.

As the Surface Phone began to grow louder this month, Richard Windsor, an Edison Investment Research analyst, told eWEEK in a Dec. 3 research note that Microsoft had been working on a "premium, metal-based device" but the project had been apparently canceled in favor of a Surface-branded smartphone. "This means that the device will sit alongside the Surface Pro tablet and Surface Book laptop and, I assume, abandoning the Lumia brand," he said. Microsoft inherited the Lumia brand as part of the company's $7 billion acquisition of Nokia's hardware and services business.

Like the successful Surface Pro 3 tablet, Windsor suspects that Microsoft will initially target business users if and when the Surface Phone sees the light of day. "The key question is, what is Microsoft hoping to achieve with this product, and given the direction taken with Surface so far, this could have very little to do with the consumer," he stated. "Consequently, the device will likely be running an Intel processor and powerful enough to perform as a desktop computer when plugged into the right peripherals."

Microsoft's latest flagship phones, the Lumia 950 and 950 XL, though powered by ARM-based Qualcomm Snapdragon processors, can already provide a desktop-like experience when connected to a Display Dock. The capability comes courtesy of the Continuum mode-switching technology found in Windows 10.

Windsor is skeptical that Continuum will help Microsoft sell very many Surface Phones. "The problem with this approach is that it has been tried many times before, and on every occasion it has failed miserably," he said.

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 network of...