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Making the case for a Microsoft Surface Phone that runs Android

Surface Logo
Surface Logo (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

The idea of a true Android smartphone by Microsoft has always piqued my interest, these days more than ever now that Windows Phone is a thing of the past. It's fair to say that in 2019, Microsoft is "all-in" on the Android platform thanks to its efforts like the Microsoft Launcher, Edge, and Office, all first-class experiences on Android smartphones around the world. While Microsoft is all over Android on the software side, one area where it hasn't grasped the platform is in the form of hardware.

Android software and apps on Microsoft hardware

Microsoft Launcher cards

Microsoft Launcher cards (Image credit: Windows Central)

To experience Microsoft software and services on Android, you must use non-Microsoft hardware. Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi, OnePlus, Google, Nokia, and plenty of other smartphone makers all offer Android hardware that can run Microsoft software when on the go. This isn't a bad thing, but an Android smartphone wouldn't be the worst idea Microsoft has ever had, especially if it keeps expectations low and doesn't make any huge bets on it.

While a Surface Phone running Android would never sell to the quantity that Samsung smartphones do (or at least not a first- or second-generation phone), Microsoft could utilize the Surface brand to showcase the best of Microsoft's Android efforts all in one place, just like it has done for Windows PCs. I'm picturing a Surface-branded, Microsoft-built smartphone that comes with Microsoft Launcher, Edge, Office, Your Phone phone-mirroring integration, and more, out of the box. In fact, that's one of four unique selling points that a Surface Phone running Android could have:

  • Showcase the best of Microsoft's efforts on Android.
  • Seamless integration with Windows PCs using Your Phone.
  • Provide the best security and update support on Android.
  • Brand recognition that can rival Apple and Samsung.

That last point is more for Microsoft fans, but the first three are important. A Surface Phone running Android would be the only smartphone out there that's always guaranteed to work with all of Your Phone's features. I have a wide array of Android smartphones, yet 90 percent of them don't support all of Your Phone's features on Windows 10. Screen mirroring is only available on select devices, and while that may improve, there's no guarantee your smartphone will ever get it, or if it'll work well.

Microsoft could provide a better experience if it had more control over the hardware and OS.

Microsoft could also provide enhanced features, such as the ability to take cellular phone calls on your PC directly from your Surface Phone. It could also build out dedicated Phone and SMS apps that sync up with the Messages app on your PC, instead of having to relay it through the Your Phone app. There's so much more potential when you build your own Android phone.

It would be much easier for Microsoft to provide better experiences that sync across PC and Android if it controlled the hardware and OS experiences at both ends. I'm not saying Microsoft should cut out third-party devices, but it wouldn't hurt to provide its own offerings in addition to supporting Samsung, OnePlus, and everybody else. It could also be the go-to device for Project xCloud, its upcoming game-streaming service.

A more controlled Microsoft experience

Android Q, which comes out later this year, will feature gesture support for navigation throughout the OS, but it only works with first-party launchers. That means if users want to use the Microsoft Launcher, they must give up gesture control, and vice versa. This is a prime example of how not having a Microsoft-made Android phone limits the experiences users want. A Surface Phone could have both Microsoft Launcher and gestures, as the Launcher would be more integrated with the OS.

Microsoft could also focus on security when it comes to Android, just like BlackBerry does. Microsoft is all about catering to enterprises, and I'm sure many enterprises out there would be interested in an Android smartphone that has security as one of the top things it focuses on. Integration with Microsoft enterprise security systems could also be valuable. That, and software updates that last longer than two years. An Android smartphone that remains updated for as long as an iPhone doesn't yet exist. Perhaps a Surface Phone could be the first.

I think the biggest reason for doing a Microsoft-made Android smartphone is that Microsoft could control what actually ships on the device and what's set by default. While the Play Store comes with baggage such as Gmail and YouTube, Microsoft could make it so Outlook, Edge, and SwiftKey, are set by default out of the box, along with Microsoft Launcher.

When it comes to design, a Surface Phone could inherit the staple Surface design language found across Microsoft's other Surface products.

Would the market embrace an Android Surface phone?

Your Phone companion

Your Phone companion (Image credit: Windows Central)

When the Microsoft Store in London opened last week, it was interesting to see just how many consumers were interested in Surface. They wanted to know what Microsoft is up to and were impressed by what they saw. I even heard someone ask whether they sell phones. (They do, but in the form of Android phones made by Samsung.)

Imagine if those store reps could point them to a Microsoft-made Android phone instead? The same great design as the Surface PCs, but running Android, meaning it has all the apps your existing phone does. It would complete the circle of hardware. Surface has its fingers dipped in almost all common hardware markets, except smartphones, arguably the number one device market out there right now. It wouldn't hurt to have a Surface Phone with Android in the mix, too.

It's not about the OS ... it's about apps.

People don't care whether their phones are running Android or Windows Phone or iOS. They care about apps. A Surface Phone that operates just like any other phone, and has the Google Play Store, is a device people would consider buying. I know die-hard Windows fans might hate a Surface Phone with Android, but the fact is, it doesn't matter what they think. It's all about catering to where people are, and people are on Android.

To be clear, I don't think we're close to Microsoft releasing an Android-powered smartphone anytime soon, but I don't think it can't happen. I wouldn't be surprised if there are people internally at Microsoft thinking about this very idea right now, weighing up whether it's worth trying. Does Microsoft want to put money into researching and developing a new smartphone, while also maintaining its own Android ROM, updates, and paying Google for a Play Store license? I'm not so sure they do.

What are your thoughts on this? Would you be interested in a Surface Phone that runs Android, with all the Microsoft bells and whistles that provide a seamless experience between your Windows PC and phone? Let us know in the comments.

Our favorite Surface accessories from Microsoft

Every one of these valuable Surface accessories is Windows Central Approved and guaranteed to please.

Surface Precision Mouse (opens in new tab) ($77 at Amazon)

The Surface Precision Mouse is not only one of favorite Surface accessories, it's one of our favorite mice for any PC. It's packed with valuable features and customizable buttons. Its scrolling and tracking are seamless and spot-on. And it's rechargeable so you never have to buy new batteries for it.

Surface Pen (opens in new tab) (From $72 at Amazon)

Every Surface owner needs this Pen. Period. It supports 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, tilt support for shading density, and enjoys supremely low latency. When paired with a Surface PC, the potential is endless. And it comes in a bunch of cool colors.

Surface Dock (opens in new tab) ($136 at Amazon)

With two Mini DisplayPorts, four USB-A 3.0 ports, an Ethernet port, and a 3.5mm audio jack, this dock gives you the ports you need to stay connected to all your favorite devices. Plus, it easily turns your Surface into a desktop power hub. We highly recommend it.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

157 Comments
  • Until Microsoft don't make a People app, Photos app, Calculator app, SMS app and a Dialer app, File explorer app, Camera app, Alarms and Clocks app for Android you can forget about the Microsoft-flavoured Android. Anyways Apple is still the richest company on the planet, miles ahead of the second one. It's pile of cash is unreachable. They have more money than MS and Google combined.
  • Piles of money mean nothing when you can't use it to engage consumers. Apple has forgotten that.
  • I’m confused by what you mean concerning what Apple has forgotten that everyone else hasn’t?
  • Nope, they haven't. They have a brand new store in DC's Carnegie Library. You can't imagine how many people have and are crowded in that store on any given day. Hell, most Apple stores I walk pass are always full of people. Have they forgotten about the customer? No, they haven't, because people that love iPhone will always be there. So, it's not that they have forgotten, they don't need to do more, at this point.
  • Yea, the Apple store here is always crowded too. Mostly with people waiting for their Genius Bar appointments. Don't get me wrong, I've always been impressed by Apple's service and support, but the store crowds aren't predominantly people buying stuff. This may change as people start to realize their local Best Buy can help them now. May be different at new openings of course.
  • Not actually true. They have a boatload of cash, but Microsoft has been or is more valuable than Apple and Google.
  • Tell me more how a metric based on fluctuating thing like stocks matter please? Companies switch place literally every month. What matters is how much money you have in the bank and the reason for these money is people buy what you produce, and they buy it because they love it.
  • Apple is a dying company without Steve. iPhone (and other "high end" phone) sales are slipping. Many have woken up from their $1K+ smartphone induced stupors to the fact that a $180 phone does a perfectly adequate job of taking pictures and running the 3 or 4 apps they regularly run on their "glorified cameras". It's why you now see Apple desperately foraying to the "service model", like their TV offerings. They realize they need a new business model and soon. Google lives or dies by ad revenues. The so-called "free" operating system it offers is not really so free when they have to track your every move and shove targeted ads up your nose every 5 seconds. It's why you see them taking action to hinder ad blockers in Chrome these days, and hamstring new browsers like Edgium. They're in the "protecting the empire" mode Microsoft was back in the 90s. Sooner or later government regulation will catch up to them, break them up, and their revenues dry up with it. Microsoft has hands down the best business model. Best market cap. Best future outlook. Best position for future revenues. This could play out one of three ways then for smartphones... 1) They figure they have enough money already via cloud, search (Bing), Surface, XBox, SaaS, and PaaS, that they continue to thumb their nose at the entire smartphone business. 2) They become another Android shill, as was suggested in this article, and hope to sell their Office 365, Onedrive, and Bing services through the Play Store. 3) They take the high road and use some of that "boatload of cash" to invest in a different kind of pocketable device... running WCOS... perhaps a foldable... a true PC in your pocket.
  • Ohh really?
    Apple market value: $940.92 Bi
    Microsoft market value: $1050.42 Bi (or $1.05 Tri) Apple is all of that?!
  • I thought I recently heard that MS had a higher value than Apple now. I didn’t look it up though. For those who always “proved” how great Apple products were, simply based on how much Apple was worth...I consistently thought...That doesn’t tell me their products are the best. Market value never is 100% proof that someones products or services are better than the rest. It can reveal how good they are at marketing, supply chain costs, and efficiency, etc. I always thought that MS is actually more powerful since Windows is used more and on more machines that any other OS. They are more enfluential because of that. Think about how many computers they are on. Think of how many corporations or government entities use their servers and the most of the computers on their networks are Windows machines.
  • "I always thought that MS is actually more powerful since Windows is used more and on more machines that any other OS." Well, that used to be true. Android holds that spot now. But, as the article states - and as I have stated many times in the past - OSes don't matter. No one cares about the OS. Its ALL about the apps. Always has been, always will be. "Think of how many corporations or government entities use their servers " Most corporate/government servers are running Linux, not Windows. Even MS Azure is running more Linux than Windows.
  • . I was looking at things from a different angle than you. Most people still consider their main “productivity” machine either a Mac or Windows based machine. That is their productivity desktop/laptop machine. That holds around 87% worldwide I believe. Yes, MS is main force there. I will say there has, at least in 2015, a greater number of mobile-only internet users compared to desktop-only. The difference was only 1% at the time. I wasn’t talking about internet servers, which is definitely Linux, so I was only confusing the matter. I work for a very large government agency and the main user base are Windows clients on Active Directory... When I last walked into the beautiful humming server room I saw most of the servers are Connected to Windows servers. I believe they do break it down though, even by application. I believe the nation-wide time collection system is on a Unix or Linux machine. Users access that mainly through a browser connection. The nation-wide Office 365 users in that agency (Which is basically every user) is now basically being hosted on MS Azure “machines” The agency does assign some employees iPads to connect to their network and also for on the go pilot moving maps for security reasons. I have never seen them assign Android devices besides assigned as a phone for emergencies because the user preferred that type. I know of no Windows phones ever being issued to any employees though. The exception is way back when it was Windows CE. They say “Big Data” computers are mainly run on Linux though. I do submit that you are probably very right about servers being mostly Linux, but I do believe they usually have at least one Windows server for the purpose of Active Directory, of which many people are connected to. I’d love to see a survey of actually how many people care about the OS on their mobile device. Many people care about security and GUI. Many people perceive iOS as more intuitive or easier to use and Android as more powerful and less limited. There are many people that pick OS based on the apps though. Sometimes it is almost as if iMessage is the only messaging app “in town” and that is only iOS. Even though there are plenty of other messaging apps on Android and iOS. They’ll pick Apple just for that app. They won’t care about good or bad reviews. There is a growing fear of security and data being from them and that definitely makes Google look bad - No matter if they are worse than anyone else or not.
  • I said pile of cash you retard. Not the market cap, which btw means literally nothing as its based on stocks fluctuations that happens every day all day. As Ballmer once said, the most important thing at the end of the day is how much money you make, and Apple is making more money than the next 3 combined and is the richest company on planet Earth for more than 6 years.
  • As of 3/31/19 MSFT had $131.618 billion in cash, cash equivalents, and short term securities. Apple has $80.092. However, Apple holds $145.319 billion in long term investments. MSFT holds $2.4 I don't know what constitutes long term investments, but let's assume they are high-quality long term (more than a year to maturity) government bonds (let's also hope they don't buy 10-year german bonds with a negative interest rate). These certainly can be converted to cash quickly. But they are exposed to interest rate changes, changing the value of the securities. They can mitigate this with good hedging techniques married with expected future ofrex earnings. Both MSFT and Apple have superior treasury operations. This highlights a basic difference between Apple and MSFT. Apple almost declared bankruptcy. But Steve jobs, after being rehired as CEO went to MSFT, who gave them a boatload of cash in exchange for something. I don't think Apple (culturally) ever wants to be in the position it found itself in the late 1990's. So sure they have tons of cash and continue to make tons of cash. But they don't want to do anything with the cash except to buy a ladder of US Treasury securities and hold them to maturity. What an awful waste of productive capital.
  • What? https://www.cnbc.com/2019/04/30/apple-now-has-225-billion-cash-on-hand.html
  • Apple does generate more revenue than Microsoft by more than double (265B vs 111B in 2018), but because much of that is on hardware with lower margins than software, Apple's gross earnings are not quite as much higher than Microsoft's, at $101B vs $71B. However, if you look at net earnings or EBITDA, Apple again double's MS, but the trend is toward the gross, so that directionally favors MS in the long run. In any case, both companies do exceptionally well. The reason MS market cap is higher right now is not meaningless, oraora, but rather reflects that the growth trends favor MS over Apple. Based on analyst reports evaluating the two companies and their respective trajectories, investors believe that Microsoft will eclipse Apple on these earnings values in the future.
  • You seem reasonable with facts. (Please post the source of your data, otherwise it's irrelevant). Let's be honest here, we don't talk trends, I've been hearing this for 6-7 years and Apple still has more money in the bank than everyone else. Are we going to see this reversed? When? Do you have a clear estimation? If money is what counts, and at the end of the day money is what counts, Apple is the most successful company in human history, like it or not.
  • Source on the numbers I provided for Apple: https://www.marketwatch.com/investing/stock/aapl/financials
    And for Microsoft: https://www.marketwatch.com/investing/stock/msft/financials I disagree on trends. Those are more important than a snapshot. Microsoft's growth rate is higher than Apple's right now, which is to say their growth and specifically growth in earnings and on revenue in high-margin areas exceeds Apple's rate of growth, but not Apple's current earnings. Extend that trajectory into the future, and, if nothing changes (I'm sure something will change, so this is admittedly imperfect), Microsoft will be earning more than Apple. In looking at a company's valuation, the people who know the most about the companies take everything into account that they can. Yes, the stock market can move as a herd, but that's more a driver for the overall market. Individual stocks tend to be fairly valued relative to other stocks, especially in the same industry and country (e.g., there may be a wave of investments into biotech and out of other sectors if one of those companies made big news with a better treatment for cancer or heart disease or a cure for fat or baldness, similarly on perception that EU interest rates were too high compared with the rest of the world, there would be a wave of investments leaving the EU). Equity analysts are some of the smartest people on the planet and they are all competing with each other to provide the most accurate predictions, where that competition further brings out their best. The big fund investors who ultimately decide on the lion's share of sales and purchases, counseled in large part on those analyst predictions for the companies, and thereby effectively determine stock pricing are no slouches either. None of them ever get it 100% right, but in the aggregate, stock pricing, driven largely by those analyst reports, has a better track record of predicting future company prospects than anything else. Looking back -- before MS lost mobile, Apple stock had eclipsed MS on the forecasts that Apple would be where it is today. 3-5 years from now, if Wall Street is right, and it usually but not always is, Microsoft will be earning more than Apple. (if you're thinking about Tesla or Bitcoin not following this track record, that's because those prices are largely driven by individual investors who are not making decisions based on analyst forecasts; those valuations do reflect irrational sentiment, but don't let those cloud the validity of stock pricing for the more established, rational investors, and even then, Tesla and Bitcoin MIGHT prove those valuations as appropriate, but the timeframe would be much further off and reflect an equivalent to a Venture Capital mindset of a 10x expected return in several years, vs. a typical investor's expected 10% return over a 6-18 month horizon). Also affecting equity pricing: There are concerns around Apple's dependence on China, with uncertainty around how that will play out. If trade concerns are resolved, that would certainly give more confidence to Apple's growth. Lack of confidence equates to discounting its value, another reason that Apple is deemed a less valuable company than Microsoft right now -- Microsoft faces fewer risks to its growth plan and momentum.
  • For me I don't think microsoft should look at making a phone to take on iOS or any of the big android devices apart from the Note. For me this is where Microsoft could make things work. No one offers anything close to the note and one reason I own one. If Microsoft can integrate office, onenote, outlook, and other Microsoft products as default I would look at this over the note. For me I don't use many 3rd party games/apps on my note but the Microsoft ones as they are better than Samsungs. If and it's a big if for me Microsoft need to look at a note rivel over anything else and also try and get continuum working to when docked like samesungs dex.
  • Surface GO? But we are waiting for the Qualcomm snapdragon device. This fall?
  • This... If MS releases a premium phone as Zac described, but with a pen as well, then I'd switch in a heartbeat. Especially if it meant faster OS updates.
  • that won't mean faster updates though
  • MS used to offer something close to the note. Pocket PCs all came with a stylus and full support for it. That morphed into Windows Mobile Phone, with stylii and then they went sideways.
  • I'm with you there.
  • The problem with their financial resources is they are frozen.
  • "Until Microsoft don't make a People app, Photos app, Calculator app, SMS app and a Dialer app, File explorer app, Camera app, Alarms and Clocks app for Android you can forget about the Microsoft-flavoured Android. Anyways Apple is still the richest company on the planet, miles ahead of the second one. It's pile of cash is unreachable. They have more money than MS and Google combined." ------ This ladies and gentlemen is how you spot a triggered fanboy
  • There is no point to make a surface phone Andromeda with Android, we can make any Android phone look like a windows phone, I am using Launcher 10 and I paid for the live tiles for notifications. They should it use the ability to make android apps and remake them as windows, I don't remember that protect but it was working very well, and that way they would it have like a windows core OS for phones and tablets, now it is to late!
  • "There is no point to make a surface phone Andromeda with Android, we can make any Android phone look like a windows phone" I think Zac's point was doing this out of the box, so that the average non-tech-savvy person, who probably has no clue what a custom launcher is, didn't have to think about it. He also pointed out that with control of the hardware they would be able to use all the features of Your Phone. As he said "I have a wide array of Android smartphones, yet 90 percent of them don't support all of Your Phone's features on Windows 10". And that's actually a really valid point. I still wouldn't buy the phone... mostly on principle... but I think some would.
  • I don't think Microsoft could get there even With more control of the hardware. I honestly don't think they have the skills or the desire.
  • DRDiver, I agree that they don’t have the desire.
  • I think Zac is being deliberately misleading. There’s a difference between running Android (the OS) and running Android Apps. Microsoft will have a pocketable Surface device that can run Android Apps, but the OS will be Microsoft’s “Modern OS.”
  • It's still an Android phone with Google's tentacles in the core OS. People very much do care whether their phone is laced with Google's privacy invasions and big brother is watching everything you do.
  • "People very much do care whether their phone is laced with Google's privacy invasions" Givent the widespread success of Android that is clearly not true at all.
  • Sure it's true. It's not true for *everybody* but there are plenty people who won't touch Android for that reason, and there are plenty of people who grudgingly accept it because they don't feel they have a choice - and who would welcome to not have to deal with Android.
  • I think you are wrong. The wide spread success is mostly due to price. I would bet that if the iPhone were priced much lower that they would have a much higher marketshare.
  • Sorry, but no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, it's impossible to get an Android device to give me anything close to my Windows phone experience. Believe me, I've been trying. The overwhelming biggest issue : Cortana. That functionality alone disqualifies Android. Microsoft is absolutely half baked with everything on Android.
  • You cannot get a Windows phone experience because it wasn't a good experience. The standard Android experience including Assistant is much better. Trying to shoehorn another ecosystem and experience will never work well.
  • "it wasn't a good experience"
    That is a matter of opinion, and it is obviously not true for everyone. I still use my Windows Phone, simply because it is, in my opinion, a better experience.
  • You may have liked it, but it certainly wasn't a great experience. You are well in the minority. Hindsight is 20/20 and now it is obvious WP wasn't good enough to compete in the smartphone market. Microsoft chased the Apple locked down experience with WP and couldn't match them. In the meantime, Android steamrolled them with an open platform.
  • 'You may have liked it, but it certainly wasn't a great experience."
    What is that supposed to mean? I happen to like liver and onions. I'm in the minority. Doesn't mean liver and onions is inherently bad. If he liked Windows Phone, as I did (do) it was a great experience for us. Probably still would be for us if you could do anything with it (apps) or it had some future. It's ability to compete in the market was way more a function of Apple's and Samsung's ability to market, and tech blogs/news outlets/carrier stores, penchant for denigrating everything MS, than any failing of the OS. There are still things showing up in Android and iOS just now that I had years ago in WP.
  • Absolutely. Tried to talk myself into buying an iPhone multiple times and just can't get excited about it.
  • My family and I switched from Windows 10 mobile (Lumia 950XL) to Android P (Nokia 7.1) 7 months ago for our daily drivers, and the downgrade in stability, performance and ease of use has been dramatic. Sure we have a few more apps now, but the net of the experience has been horrible. I am still receiving monthly security update on my 950 XL (and should continue to receive them thru Dec), and I have dual booted Windows 10 Pro on it too, which I think should be a direction that MS should pursue further. Perhaps a Surface Phone which can full Windows 10 (great for business users), with access to Android apps.
  • Making the case for an iPhone.
    As much as I'd love a Microsoft-made phone, any Android phone has too much Google crap for me to buy it.
  • That's the downside of this idea for me too. I don't have a G account... haven't had one for 3 years now... and I don't want one ever again. I think Zac's phone would sell, sure, I just wouldn't want one because I don't trust or like Alphabet Corp. As much as I support Nadella's cross platform plays, I feel like this would be taking things too far. Still think there's room for an Andromeda (albeit niche) device. Until then, sticking with a PC and an iPhone.
  • Same. Don’t have any google apps on my iPhone at all and google is the main reason I stay away from android phones. If they could make a google free android phone...
  • A Google free Android phone would suffer the same fate as Windows Phone, death by a 100 apps.
  • Oh, please, BOTH platforms share the same problems. They both suck.
  • Obviously they didn't suck as bad as WP. Microsoft could they begin to compete with Android or iOS.
  • JoshRamsay, I would also like to see that as well. I enjoy using Apple devices and their OS. I use no Google apps on my iDevices. Of the tech companies, I trust Google the least and they aren’t usually the best experiences either.