Microsoft's plans for its handset business are anything but clear. The company recently released two flagship smartphones running Windows 10 Mobile, but there is precious little known about what's beyond the Lumia 950 and 950 XL. Recent reports suggest Microsoft's Surface team will take a crack at the next Windows phone, which isn't a bad idea.
Microsoft announced the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book at a huge, splashy event in New York City back in October. The Lumia 950 and 950 XL were revealed at the same event, but felt decidedly like afterthoughts. The phones played second fiddle to the Surface devices, and were announced with little enthusiasm from Microsoft's execs.
The Lumia 950 and 950 XL are likely the last remnants of Nokia's genetics. Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia's handset business has been branded a failure. Sure, the company kicked out a handful of phones since taking the reins, but at this point Microsoft has cleared out most of the former Nokia employees and accepted the idea of sticking to just a few phones per year. The 950 and 950 XL may be the only Windows 10 handsets to reach the market for some time.
A Windows 10 smartphone planned for May 2016 has been cancelled, according to Windows Central, and will be replaced with a Surface Phone created by Panos Panay and the same team that forged the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book. The forthcoming Surface Phone won't arrive until the final months of 2016, which means it may be another year before we see new smartphones from Microsoft.
The Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book are stunning designs. They may not be perfect, but they represent Microsoft at its best. The devices are high-quality, portable, and powerful when it comes to productivity. Panay's team certainly has the potential to cook up a killer Windows 10 handset.
Details about the Surface Phone are scant at best. Windows Central's sources say the phone will arrive in the third or fourth quarter of 2016, may rely on Intel processors and run x86 apps, and is likely to be timed with the arrival of Windows 10 Redstone. Redstone is expected to build on Continuum, which lets Windows 10 handsets behave like full PCs when connected to a screen, keyboard, and mouse. Redstone may let apps transfer presence from a phone to a PC and allow calls to be made through PCs.
Beyond that, there's not much to go on. Microsoft has remained tight-lipped about its plans for Windows Mobile. Given the efforts it put into creating universal apps (which work on PCs, tablets, and phones), it is unlikely Microsoft will give up on Windows 10 Mobile entirely. The slow pace of development and extended hiatus of Windows mobile's chief proponent, Joe Belfiore, suggest Microsoft is in no rush to bring new hardware to the market.
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