Microsoft: Just bite the bullet, release Surface Andromeda

Expectations revolving around Microsoft's unannounced Surface Andromeda are reaching particularly ridiculous levels, I say ridiculous because this thing hasn't even been announced.

Owing to leaks, patent filings, code snippets from the Fast Ring, and other rumors, we have a fairly complete picture of what Andromeda may look like. A folding tablet, with telephony, inking, powered by a new Windows variant OS, running apps from the Microsoft Store. Andromeda would be a versatile powerhouse that, sure, might not replace the average consumer's smartphone, but I've seen enough people carrying iPads around in tandem with their laptops and smartphones, all at once, to know that this thing has a market, albeit niche.

I have zero doubts about the engineering prowess of Panos Panay's Surface team. Like with the Microsoft Courier, what could prevent Andromeda's release is company politics and the cowardice of upper management. I say grow a spine, Microsoft.

Surface Pen

Surface Pen (Image credit: Windows Central)

Rumors of a delay, even cancelation

Andromeda was a featured a bit in the news last week, after The Verge leaked an internal email detailing how they're aiming to build a disruptive product. Soon after, ZDNet reported that Andromeda had been delayed, or even canceled, as Microsoft struggled to find a real reason to release this thing.

The fact ZDNet received negative intel about Andromeda, not even a couple of days after The Verge leaked, what appeared to be, a positive email, seems to point to internal strife surrounding the product. ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley noted that sometimes leaks occur to try to drum up public support for a product facing cancellation. I certainly saw this myself with the Xbox Career system, where a flurry of leaks in a short space of time, along with some continued insistence that it was still on the way, was quickly undermined when Xbox CVP Mike Ybarra said that the system was no longer in development. Could Andromeda face the same fate?

Disruptive products, niche products

Microsoft doubtlessly shelves projects all the time, but Andromeda is something the world has never seen before, at least not from a large mainstream tech company. Sure, there have been tech demos, and hacked-together Android concepts, but there hasn't been a company to come forward yet and say "this" is a new form factor we're going to support within our ecosystem. Windows, and Surface, are uniquely positioned to power a tablet of this type.

Windows Ink, while niche, certainly has its fans and users. If it was a true failure, Microsoft would have stopped releasing countless updates to its Surface Pen line. The Surface Studio, widely rumoured to get a second outing, is the ultimate expression of the inking use-case, with an absolutely stunning screen focused around digital art production. You could say the Surface Studio is a niche within a niche, yet Microsoft still decided to not only release it, but likely support it with a sequel. Why is a truly pocketable mobile sketchbook so taboo for Microsoft?

Unintelligent edge

Concept artist David Breyer's reportedly accurate Andromeda renders.

Concept artist David Breyer's reportedly accurate Andromeda renders.

The tech press is already railing against Andromeda, seeing it as another reboot of Microsoft's doomed mobile aspirations. Windows Phone 7 failed, 8 failed, 10 failed, hard. We all know the story. Rather than soldier on with Windows 10 Mobile and Lumia, Microsoft shelved it, depriving UWP of a small screen endpoint, which I'd argue has killed the entire platform. In response, Microsoft changed the way it's thinking about mobile and devices in general, which they call the "intelligent edge."

The over-reliance on the third-party "intelligent edge" is harming Microsoft's operating systems, and by extension, OEM, app developer, and consumer confidence.

Microsoft is the king of "missing the boat." Rather than invest in some kind of smart speaker, or double down on Kinect for Xbox One, Microsoft allowed Amazon to move in and begin dominating the smart home speaker market, and by extension, IoT devices. Now it has to rely on Amazon playing nice to deliver Cortana to Windows users, which, in turn, allows Amazon's Alexa to encroach on Windows PCs. The over-reliance on the third-party "intelligent edge" is harming Microsoft's operating systems, and by extension, OEM, app developer, and consumer confidence.

Microsoft's "intelligent edge" mantra seems like a bit of an excuse to avoid taking risks on Microsoft's part. Redmond hopes that it can rely on third-party platforms to play nice when it releases its software and services on their mobile platforms, shirking the responsibility of providing UWP devs or Windows users the option of not having to buy into the Apple, Amazon, or Google ecosystem for a pocket computing device.

Intelligent edge excuses.

Intelligent edge excuses.

This reliance on the goodwill of companies and ecosystems that have been openly hostile to Microsoft in the past, I'd argue, is far riskier than simply attempting to provide endpoints for its own ecosystem. Apple recently slapped Valve from the iOS app store, blocking Steam Link from its entire platform. Both companies are currently working to get Steam Link on iOS, but it sounds as though Apple will expect some form of cut for allowing Valve essentially take engagement away from the App Store. This could bode ill for Xbox cloud streaming, or at least its profitability.

That's just one example of a way Microsoft's reliance on external ecosystems can hinder the company's potential. I'm by no means suggesting that Microsoft has any chance of catching up at this point when it comes to mobile ecosystems. That ship has not only sailed, but violently sunk to the bottom of the ocean. I am saying, however, that there should at the very least be an option. A presence. The lack of a small screen endpoint for the Windows ecosystem is a glaring missing link.

Andromeda opportunity

Microsoft's "future productivity" concept vision may be realized by Redmond's competitors first, due to cowardice.

If Microsoft has the opportunity to show it can take risks, and not only build unique devices, but support them, I believe that it would have a cascading effect on Windows and the PC market in general. The dual-screen form factor has all sorts of exciting use cases. Microsoft needs something to showcase Windows' versatility as a platform, as it seeks to embed eSim technology, LTE, progressive web apps, to create more nimble always-connected mobile-like PCs. The rumored smaller Surface device will already begin blurring these lines, the logical next step is something that truly can fit in your pocket.

Release Surface Andromeda, you cowards.

Sure, there are many moving parts that need to align to make this work. If it launched today, a Surface "phone" tablet would have no WhatsApp, essentially killing it as a primary mobile device in Europe. It would have no real high-quality music service, since Spotify isn't UWP-based, and Groove Music was killed.

It requires all new technology to work properly, new Windows features, and a new developer SDK. It needs every department at Microsoft pulling in one direction, backing it, investing in it, and believing in it.

These days, I'm simply not sure Microsoft is capable of taking real risks anymore (I actually have a bet with Senior Editor Zac Bowden that Andromeda will never come out). This aversion to danger is what has led to Microsoft missing the boat on so many damn things it easily had the power to take a leadership role in. If Microsoft doesn't start caring about pocketable small-screen computing soon, not only does Windows itself runs the risk of becoming obsolete, developer and consumer confidence in Microsoft to launch and properly back new products will continue to run on empty.

Jez Corden
Managing Editor

Jez Corden is the Managing Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

296 Comments
  • Just getting in here before Rodneyej :D
  • Congratulations 🎉
  • Damn! Beat me to the punch 👊🏽💜⛽💜⛽💜⛽
  • At this point, besides hundreds of millions of dollars, and reputation, what do they have to lose?😎😎😎
    .......
    Maybe MS is playing us all. Maybe all the secretes, delays, and vagueness, are all tactics to build hype. I mean there has never been so much controversial talk back and fourth over an unreleased MS product. MS could be using us all (trolls, and all) to pre market this device, and if it is infact coming, we are all doing just that. Isn't that what we've all been wanting MS to do? Microsoft knows whether the talk is good, or bad, about Andromeda it still is talk. They also know that if Andromeda comes out, and it is reviewed well by the media, fans, and everyday users, all that talk is only helping to spread the word.... So, say whatever you want about Andromeda; good, or bad. It's only helping to create awareness, wonder, excitement, and news, about the product. All before it is even announced.
  • If Satya keeps this up, he's gotta go. Seems like anything that might be for general consumers he obliterates it. I'm afraid to cast it, but he's a one trick pony, "CLOUD".
  • I don’t think Nadella is intentionally destroying Microsoft’s consumer business, I just believe he is extremely cautious, and probably terrified to make a mistake. His claim to fame is Azure and Office 365 (but those were created under Ballmer), and cutting expenses on other long-term investments. That has been amazing for the stock price. As far as innovation created under his name in 4 years as CEO, you have a laptop, a “me too” OEM speaker, and apparently a Pentium based tablet. For a guy who wrote a book on how amazing he was in creating innovation at Microsoft through empathy, something is definitely wrong and missing.
    I believe he’s indecisive and scared. Putting nice guy (probably empathetic guy) Terry Myerson in charge of Windows was a mistake he was forced to correct. If he releases a something and it fails, he could be exposed again. So instead of making a wrong move, he just doesn’t move. Like a deer in the headlights, frozen.
  • Well said. I've called him the Cowardly Lion more than a few times. Perhaps a little harsh. But seriously, you have to take *some* risks if you want to succeed. Especially if you're going to write a book about yourself! BTW Andromeda is not even that big a risk. I don't think anyone would fault him for trying to have *some* presence in mobile... even if he falls flat on his face. Besides absolutely nobody expects this thing to be a best seller. All we expect is a *presence* in mobile. That's all. Something to build on. Azure and O365 are humming along right now, providing him with pocket loads of cash. There couldn't possibly be a better time to take a risk. If he can't bring himself to do it now, with virtually perfect circumstances, he's even worse than an Oz character... he's just a boob.
  • Who said v1 has to be perfect? The iPhone didn't have third party apps until OS2, Android was a horror show at first, and Alexa was dumb as a rock. The difference is these companies believe in the strategy, and just kept iterating on their v1 products until they became great. Nadella and team are stuck in analysis paralysis, constantly over thinking, changing their mind, and scared to move. Just release what you got and commit to v2, then v3, then v4. If you really believe in the long-term vision, commit. But don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and for god sake don't lose because you're scare to compete.
  • It has to be almost perfect due to the fact that the other players in the market, iOS and android, have well established systems that are used daily by millions of people. Unfortunately, MS could never gain traction in the mobile market. I was a MS mobile fan, i had a couple of devices, but in the end it was just not worth me supporting them any longer. A lack of third party party support and developer backed content made my device challenging to use. I am now using an apple phone (that i hate but it was given to me free) and it serves the function of what i need. I can see why this device may never be released. As a CEO i would be seeing massive amounts of risks. Risks which have been proven to occur with other device releases. Saying all that i would like MS to release this device only to see if it would actually be useful or just a gimmick that is more hindrance than useful.
  • There in no market yet for this type of device. There is not yet any competition. There will be competition, but THIS IS NOT A SMARTPHONE!
  • Yes it is. If it fits in your pocket, makes calls natively, and is fully functional, it is a smartphone. Using your logic, a Galaxy Note isn't a smartphone. It is an ultra-mobile PC with journaling and DeX. It isn't a phone.
  • The Galaxy Note is not a phone, it's a phablet. This new Surface will be bigger, so more of a tablet than a phablet. If Lenovo had made it, it would be called a YogaTab. It would clearly not be a YogaPhone.
  • There is a big difference. Back then there was little to none competition. Now, the other platforms are rock solid, so MS, with a half baked product, will not benefit from this excuse...Also, they have a proven history of catastrophic failures and product kill offs, which carry a heavy weight in anyone's decision to ever buy something from them from V1.0. If fanboys agree being guinea pigs on their own $$$ for MS beta products, the rest of the world would not do this again.
  • People would line up around the block for the next iPhone, and Android was total garbage at the time. Yet Google didn't quit. They didn't just commit to v1 and say "if this doesn't become and instant mega hit, we'll just abandon it." Google committed to v1, v2, v3, v4, they knew innovation is really a long and difficult marathon and not spark of ingenious perfection. Alexa was not close to the first voice assistant on the market either, and certainly not the best, but Amazon is 100% committed to making it the best. You can buy an Alexa device knowing that Amazon isn't going to pull support and that the next versions will be even better. If Microsoft is just going to release Andromeda v1 and then wait to see the sales numbers, then they should just quit now. If they can't commit to at least v3 or v4 today, then they will never have long term success. Especially with a category creating Andromeda device, it is going to take until at least v3 to be close to "fully baked". And, they will need consumer feedback on v1 and v2 to get it right. They will never, ever get it "fully baked" in a secret laboratory.
  • Xactly
  • Cowardly Lion? Nah, he's a Tin Man. All axe, no heart, and can't make a move without help.
  • Satya wants to have all of us assassinated😎
  • Yep. If you met Ol' Nads in the street and asked for his autograph telling him you're a Microsoft fan I give you a 50/50 chance he'd shoot you in the face.
  • Their face. Imagine if CoreOS turns out to be just as horrible as Android... Not that it would ever happen since no company would release such a product, but still.
  • A company that wanted to succeed would. Android runs circles around Windows, outselling it 4 to 1! Microsoft is a minority player when you look at all computing platforms in 2018.
  • android runs like crap as compare to windows phone 8.1. so take that bullshit in your ass.
  • The problem is that they are letting it languish. No one knows when or if this thing is coming. We know Microsoft has a habit of not supporting mobile across 5+ years with WP7 and on. So, you say "no bad press," but all this does is make Andromeda sound like the next mobile effort to be canceled. When they're expected to cancel the thing, devs won't come. Consumers won't come. That's where "no such thing as bad press" proves false. I hate Google and Apple as companies, that sells me on Andromeda more than anything Microsoft has done. I expect this thing to launch and fail, but at least it'll keep me away from Android a little longer. That's where MS's best-case is these days.
  • I believe MS is trying to avoid hype. Otherwise it would focus Andromeda on the consumer space. In the enterprise, you don't have much hype. Enterprise does not act like a bunch of hipsters. MS can't even afford to have hype. There is no way they can produce enough of this product to serve hype.
  • It has nothing to do with the enterprise.. Let's be clear; Surface has not really ever been about enterprise. Granted there is the enterprise focused Surface Hub, Surface Pro, Studio, and Book, are are targeted at the "Business Consumer".... We all know what business consumers are. They are regular consumers. So, MS never gave up on the entire consumer market, rather they have set the non professional consumer market aside for now to focus on the productive consumer. Nevertheless, they are all consumers, not enterprise customers.
    Andromeda would litteraly be marketed towards consumers. There's a big difference here.
  • Here's a petition to bring andromeda to the market: https://www.change.org/p/all-the-people-who-would-buy-the-phone-show-mic...
  • Probably you will have a discussion with Dan now....
    Anyways, nice article. I agree.
  • Why will I have a discussion with Dan? haha cheers.
  • thanks for the article...my sentiments exactly!
  • Jez.. This is a serious question. Jez, I would like for MS to read your article. What are the odds that your article may reach MS, and have some amount of impact on their decision making process?
  • Yeah definitely! MS has to hear this.
  • Do you mean "has to hear this" as in they most definitely will hear this, or they should definitely hear this?
  • I would say pretty high since they seem to be buds with Dona.
  • So, are you saying that this article will be forwarded to Dona? Because Dona is a busy lady. I'd you think she's reading WC you're fooling yourself. Lol
  • Dona commission WC for this intense insider feedback... There u go....
  • Microsoft rea