Skip to main content

Should a Surface phone be called the Surface "Phone"?

7 essential apps if you own a Surface Pen
7 essential apps if you own a Surface Pen

Microsoft recently announced that they have no plans on getting back into the mobile hardware business anytime soon, as it's just not logical or viable with the likes of Android and iOS being so far ahead. Instead, the company is waiting on some kind of "paradigm shift" in the mobile market that would enable them to compete again, but until that happens it is super unlikely we'll be getting any new "Windows 10 Mobile" hardware.

That doesn't mean Microsoft isn't working on something, however. We've known for several months now that Panos Panay and his team are working on some kind of Surface "Phone" which will basically be a much smaller Surface running Windows 10 Mobile that can make phone calls. With that in mind, we already know that unless a paradigm shift does happen, releasing a Surface "Phone" would make no logical sense, as it'd just fall face first right out of the gate as the mobile market simply won't accept Windows 10 Mobile.

That's right now, but with this "paradigm shift", Microsoft is betting that people will start accepting Windows on their smartphones, but how, exactly? Well, it definitely isn't going to happen the way things are currently going; with iOS and Android towering way above Windows 10 Mobile, this is a fight Microsoft simply can't win. What it can do however, is attempt to change the way we think about smartphones, forever.

In the 1970s, 80s and 90s, smartphones weren't really a thing. We simply had "mobile phones", which were kind of like the landline phones you had at home, except they weren't tethered to the wall by a wire. These mobile phones came in all shapes and sizes, and varied in features over time. At first, they were pretty basic, only being able to make phone calls, which funnily enough is why we called them mobile "phones".

At some point, over several years, these phones gained more and more features, and eventually we stopped calling them mobile phones and started calling them "smartphones". Many phone manufacturers tried building smartphones, but it wasn't until Apple unveiled the iPhone that consumers finally took notice of the concept and what a "smartphone" could actually be.

The first iPhone in 2007 paved and shaped the way we think and use smartphones today. All smartphones are pretty similar in design, and that's all thanks to Apple. But at the time, our mobile phones were still primarily phones, which is why the term "smartphone" made sense.

But, and let's be honest with ourselves here, most of us aren't buying smartphones for the 'phone' bit anymore. We haven't been for years. Most of us don't actually buy smartphones because they can make phone calls — no, we're buying them for the apps, the mobile internet access, the streaming music and videos, the messaging and email, and perhaps for the ability to get a little bit of work done here and there.

Of course, we still use the phone part sometimes, I'm not saying we don't, but a lot of us definitely don't buy smartphones because they're a phone first and foremost anymore.

If you think about it, that's basically a PC in all matters of the word. Sure, it's not a desktop PC, and smartphones definitely aren't as powerful as full PCs, but that doesn't really matter if these smartphones can do what we expect them to do. We've set for ourselves expectations of what each kind of PC can do, a smartphone, a desktop, a laptop, and a tablet — they're all designed for different things.

Now I'm not saying Microsoft should remove the phone functionality from whatever kind of Surface phone they plan to announce, what I am saying is perhaps we shouldn't exactly be expecting another Windows phone from Microsoft. Instead, we should be expecting something that breaks boundaries and changes the way we think about a certain product, just like how the Surface Pro did with tablets, the Surface Book did with laptops, and the Surface Studio did with PCs.

Of course, we don't know exactly what Microsoft has planned for a Surface phone, but part of the reason we don't already have a Surface phone is because the software, Windows 10 Mobile, isn't ready yet. The Surface team has big plans for a Surface phone, but until Windows 10 Mobile is up to scratch and worthy of being part of the Surface phone story, we have to wait.

Many have been expecting Redstone 2 (The Creators Update) to focus heavily on Windows 10 Mobile features, but that's not how Windows 10 development works anymore. There's no single big bang release with new features, instead this focus is spread out across the next 2-3 years, with each Redstone release bringing more features and changes to Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile.

We know Redstone 2 will focus on Continuum improvements for Windows 10 Mobile, bringing the experience up to par with what you'd expect from an actual desktop, and that's likely the first step toward the ultimate vision Microsoft has for a Surface phone. A phone that can be everything, redefining what we expect from your typical smartphone.

I expect more Windows 10 Mobile features and improvement will show up in Redstone 3, scheduled for a late-summer launch, and Redstone 4, currently targeted for launch sometime in 2018. I'd be surprised to see a Surface Phone show up before Redstone 4, as Windows 10 Mobile as it currently stands, is not good enough to ship on what Microsoft has envisioned for the Surface phone.

Things like the Windows Ink Workspace, more Continuum improvements, bringing the operating system up to par with iOS and Android, are all major things that Windows 10 Mobile needs before Microsoft can even think about releasing a Surface phone. And take note, all of these features aren't exactly to do with the phone, they're to do with being productive, creating new experiences and changing the way we think of smartphones.

Perhaps the Surface phone should be called the Surface Note, emphasising Windows Ink, or Surface Go, being a small Surface you can fit in your pocket without losing any of the productivity you'd gain from a laptop or desktop. I'm not saying the Surface phone will be able to replace your dedicated desktop machine, but I am saying we shouldn't be expecting Microsoft to release a simple Surface phone, we should expect them to innovate and change the way we think about smartphones.

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.

  • No. For all that holy in the world, no, do not call it a Surface Phone. I am totally for a "hero" device that fits the ultra mobile computing device but I really think the "phone" name implies an effort to compete with iOS and Android that everyone knows MS won't (can't) do.
  • Personally, I couldn't care what they call it. I'd be more interested in the features. Pointless calling it an awesome name but it's the same as every other windows phone with maybe a higher spec here or there
  • I agree makes no difference what they call it. It's a stupid question what Zac is asking . It's up to Microsoft to name their product
  • Have you never read an article on a website before today?
  • Lol
  • You and I may not care, but I sure there are some people out there that because it isn't branded a phone, won't look at it the same way as other devices in the market. I would like to believe I don't fall for marketing gimmicks, but they still work in even the best of us. Even if you see past the obvious ploys to buy their products, it still goes into the subconscious.
  • In the market each single letter of the name of a product matter. Marketing is the soul of the business, and doing it the wrong way may bring you lots of bad news
  • And they must bring back the features they are busy removing!!! Its about the OS not the hardware, As for the apps gap, it depends on where you are on the map (world).
  • They absolutely should call it the Surface Phone... after they realize the "paradigm shift" needs to happen within Microsoft internally. They've been uncaring and unaggressive in their push... which is a much bigger killer than any purported app gap. Apple's been down and in the dumps... and still managed to generate consumer confidence with spin doctor tactics such as talking about cumulative sales. When Microsoft figures out they're the only ones to blame for their status in the mobile market, they're gonna want to piggyback off a name that's established and trusted: Surface.
  • Agreed.  I feel they've somehow manage to tie their own hand behind their back.  It's stupid little lack of features that is a bigger killer than app gap.  How are they supposed to get ahead, when they can't even keep up?  Any innovation they have, they make available on all platforms, and cut off the hand they didn't tie behind their own back.  They need to allow other keyboards (or at least offer Swiftkey, especially since they own it now!), they should have left Cortana as WM only, they should have allowed LEDs long before the X3 got it, allow repeating and custom notifications.... The list goes on. And on. And on.  They should focus on differentiating themselves, once they're on par with Android/Apple.  Right now they're 5 yrs behind.  And it's all "stupid" little things that they could add in one update.  Everything I just listed should be easy for them to integrate, compared to trying to push Continuum, etc.  THEN they would have a good starting point.  Some people wouldn't get past the Tile UI, but at least they would have feature parity with A/A 
  • What is 5yrs behind? Other than certain apps not being available in the store, I'd like to know what features from IOS your missing on W10 Mobile.
  • A blinking LED changes lives apparently. Though I do agree to some extent, a lot of the "features" missing are actually just very basic things you see on a million other phones, though I do question the whole 5 years behind number.
  • See my nasellok reply below
  • iPhone 8 is rumored to have wireless charging. Wow! That is exactly 5 years behind. Continuum? Try iPhone 13. :-)
  • Also iPhone have yet to enable NFC for anything besides Tap-To-Pay whereas on Windows and Android you can use it for file sharing, connect to gadgets, etc.
  • Android has it.  And they are ahead of Apple. Soooo, there's that.  And I don't use Apple, just including them because, well, they're still blowing MS out the water.
  • What a bang on the nose... I love u...
  • nasellok, first, I won't touch crApple products, and there are NONE in my household.  And I started using Android about 5 yrs ago, because WM starting going backward.  They had custom reminder settings for the calendar, and took them away.  My first Android phone had this, AND the magical blinking LED.  Don't like your keyboard?  Download a different one.  Don't like your messaging app?  Download a new one that has repeating reminders... 5 yrs behind.  If WM wasn't at 1% you could say I'm being nebby (does anyone use that term outside of W. Pa?), but it is, so guess what?  These little details matter to the average consumer.  I want W10M to succeed, I really do.  But if MS doesn't get their head out of their rearends, it's either going to die off, or languish at 1% until judgement day
  • Surface pad?
  • gross...
  • Surface Scribe✔
    Surface Multi
    Surface Trio
    Surface Ultra "Ultra Portable, Ultra Powerful"
    Surface Pro M
    Surface Solo "The only device you need"
    Surface Jot.. More original take on "note"
    Surface Life "Life Device" "Device for life"
    Surface 321
    Surface M³ "Mobile to the third power"
    Surface MPC "Mobile PC"
    Surface ???????
  • Just "Surface". Nothing more. It encompasses all that needs to be said. It places the new device squarely at the center of Microsoft's device efforts - every other device now is a companion to the actual Surface (the Pro, the Book, the Studio, ...). A lot has been said about Continuum and note taking being hallmark features of such a devices. And while I believe that to be true, I also believe that it will have a Mixed Reality component of some sorts. Maybe it will have a depth sensor on the back to allow its user to see the same "holograms" that a Hololens user would see on the screen instead of through the glasses.
  • IDK.. I think that may cause some confusion... It needs to have a description. It needs a designation to differentiate it from the other Surface devices.... That could work for enthusiast, but the average consumer might question which Surface product it is.
  • That'll be confusing for people, man.
  • Surface devices and their naming have always been simple and relative. I hope they give it a good one whenever that's coming.
  • They will... I was never a fan of the Lumia name.. Especially for the US. That name just doesn't resonate here. I always hoped they would use something more cool. Lumia sounds like some old Mexican ladies name. Lol.
  • I like the Life one :)
  • Surface One.
  • I think since they dropped the non pro surface line that the phone will be called a surface which kinda equates with just calling apples phones iPhones. You have a surface, iPhone, and Android. The tablets will be surface pro's and the AIO's will be surface studios. Surface for enterprise/the little small consumer base that will buy it because the don't like Android or Apple, surface pro for "power users" which doesn't mean u can't have then as a consumer device because that's all my SP4 is used for. Use the work PC for all that. And then the surface studio for "creative users" and desktop lovers and enthusiasts. And finish it off with the surface book for "productivity users" who still like the idea of an actual laptop.
  • That's what I have been thinking too :)
  • It should be called the Surface AIO  (all in one) since it would actually be an all in one device.  Oh and it should have a surface like kickstand.
  • no for the kickstand :D
  • But this in itself (taking that much for the Surface Note / Go / Phone to materialize) is a disaster. There will be no Windows Store left, no useful apps, no users, nothing. In its current state, the Windows Store is losing more important apps by the days, ones that will probably never come back. Windows Mobile is losing users faster than ever! Imagine how bad this will be in 2 years time. It's either Microsoft speeds up the developmentor it's better to scrap the project all together starting today!
  • According to this piece, Windows Mobile, Windows CE, Windows 6.1-6.7 never happened. Hmmmm...
  • Or Blackberry.... But, I get the point he was trying to make.. And, he did say that others tried to make smartphone's.... The only thing I disagree with is that he implies that others tried, but weren't successful, which is not true.
  • Good point. It should be called the Surface Communicator.
  • "eeehhhhh".. Try again. Lol
  • I think it should be called something along the lines of the 'Surface Communicator' as that is more apt to it's use, multi purpose communication via various messaging and email clients, web sites, UWP and voice all brought together on continuum. Yes it may sound a bit Trecky :)
  • Absolutely they should.
    Surface is respected as a quality brand and what a way to market this new device side by side with all the other quality Surface products.
    Crazy if the don't, especially for the corporate world.
  • Surface Palm
  • This should be the real Surface Mini
  • This. Give me a 7-8" tablet with cellular, I am in.
  • Yeah, because majority of people want 7-8" phones. /s
  • Some people do like large screens.
  • I can't imagine too many people wanting anything larger than 5.7. Remember, people complained about how big the 6 inch screen was on the Lumia 1520. I'm a pretty big and tall guy, with pretty big hands. I had the 1520 for a few years and loved it, until I needed to replace it. I have a 950 XL and I'm loving this phone's size. I think the 5.7...MAYBE 5.8 is a sweet spot for large screen phones.
    Having owned the Lumia 950 XL for the last few weeks, I can say that the 5.7 in. screen is a pretty good size. It is a compromise between size a being practical.
  • Remember the size and popularity of the Galaxy Note. Before they became smaller and began to explode.
  • Lol...
  • Nice rhyme there actually. ... Began to explode. Haha.
  • 8" isn't large. It is obscene. I like my 950XL, but anything larger than the 1520 is a tablet and not a phone. A tablet with LTE capabilities is nice, but a phone shouldn't be that size. MS needs to appeal to the majority of users before they can address a niche market.
  • Why do we have this idea that there can't be multiple sizes, and form factors, that MS is working on for mobile?? Doesn't that make more sense?
    Why argue about what size they should make it?.... Shouldn't we be asking for a variety of mobile devices to please everyone? Why not 5.7", 6.2" and 6.7" versions? Those are staggered .5" apart. Makes sense to me.
  • so you basicly want a tablet not a phone :P
  • Yes! :)
  • Why not both? Why not devices in the 5, 6, and 7" range? A family of mobile devices is MS's best bet at reaching more consumers. Don't you agree?
  • I don't see that as likely, still need to be able to carry it around in a pocket. IMO a 6" device (such as the Elite X3) is as big as you'd want it. Any bigger and you won't be able to fit it into a pocket.
  • That has been my vision. I believe that Panos will bring what he valued as Mini attributes (inking etc) to this new device, including the other attributes' MS is working on.
  • Why does no "phone" include a chargeable headset as part of the device? As long as the default way of talking is holding the thing up to your head, it's going to be viewed as a phone first. Size also matters a lot less if you don't ever plan to hold it to your head. Some people will want something that fits in a pocket (including me), so that may still require a 5" - 5.5" model, but for people who put it in a purse or just carry it around, a mini tablet would be perfect. Of course, the Surface doesn't even have a good place to store its pen/stylus, and you have to change the batteries when they run out (its only major design flaw, in my opinion) so it doesn't bode well for an embedded rechargeable headset. But if Surface does come out with an embedded stereo rechargeable Bluetooth headset, making it a mini tablet/computer first, that also happens to support directly talking on the phone and Skype, it wouldn't really need a physical earphone jack, finally doing to Apple what Apple has done to MS many times over the years -- follow with a very similar feature, but do it right and get positive reviews for the same thing that was panned on the original. :-)
  • I've thought about that.
  • Like, take out your Mobile or Pad from your Pocket to take a Note or Scribble or Doodle with Ink gotta have a contemplative and subtle name to it!
  • Jason... I think we're being short sighted here.. I find it funny that people debate on what size is should be when we should be asking for a variety of smaller Surface mobile products so that MS has a better chance at reaching more consumers. This device could range from 5.7", 6.2", 6.7", and 7.2" models.. Wouldn't you rather see MS introduce a family of mobile devices, rather than put their eggs in one basket? I would, and that's what I'm hoping for.
  • Surface Note sounds logical. 
  • Other than the fact that it would just be a copy of the Galaxy Note's name.
  • Surface Ink maybe? I feel like Surface Note could cause problems with flashbacks to the Galaxy NOTE.
  • Yup. With all these NOTES exploding, that's a BAD name now.
    Surface Ink sounds wonderful!! And Surface Go ain't bad too.
  • I like the suggestion above of a Surface Pad. Kind of like a notepad you carry around in your pocket. In my opinion, it sticks with the creativity motif
  • ipad already ruined that name.
  • No, star trek ruined that name. Surface PADD...
  • I like that.. "Surface Ink".. Cool!
  • "surface combo" is the best name.. Ftw
  • I didn't understand the Surface Note suggestion from the article. How would the term "note" differentiate this product an any way? Other than evoking the Galaxy Note product line, the word "note" has no significance to me in the realm of techology gadgets.
  • Surface mini would be better, highlighting that it can be used for mobile As well.
  • I think we all agree that we want a "SURFACE SOMETHING" And, we want it sooner, than later.. Lol.
  • Surface Mobile please - as in mobile PC.
  • Yes Surface Mobile seems to be the right choice. Maybe the Surface team will surprise us. So far they managed everything well, even the name of the device.
  • I prefer Surface AIO or Surface Mini since the Surface Pro 4 is also small light and mobile.
  • Yes, Just keep it simple. My vote is for Surface Mobile, or Surface GO if not mobile.
  • My thoughts exactly.
  • Boring though....
  • I was thinking the same..."Surface Mobile". Possibly just "Surface" as well. Honestly, it's the smartphone I've wanted since the 1st Surface came out. I totally expected it to come out the very next year. Someone commented "No" to the kickstand, but I say absolutely yes to a kickstand. Too many times I've tried to prop up my phone to share a video, take a picture, or watch a game, and nothing works as well as the kickstand. I know people love cases and you can get cases for your devices that will work like a kickstand. But I don't do cases...I love the sleek form-factor that a case-less smartphone offers. If I want any type of scratch protection, I use a tempered glass cover for the screen, that's it. Anyway, Surface Mobile would be great and I'd buy it yesterday. However, the simplicity of the name Surface seems to be the best.
  • True statement. Surface breeds quality and holds a high regard.
  • So are they just waiting for this paradigm shift to happen or are they trying to introduce it themselves?
  • They have been doing the paradigm shifts themselves before, but the phone market is harder to shift since there is a monopolist controlling the market.
  • I'll still be surprised if there's no form of phone hardware from MS directly in late 2017. I think they need to release some sort of phone if they want people to carry on using W10M at all. Saying that, the Alcatel phone is nice and if there's a new version in late 2017 I'd consider upgrading to it from my 950. That and the Elite X3 are probably the only two I like enough to consider now that Lumia is gone. The Jade Primo is great value at £200 but not the most attractive.
  • I'm not actually bothered if it's Surface branded or not to be honest. There just needs to be either a MS Phone or an OEM phone with all the features that the 950 has. They'll find it harder to change how people think about mobiles if they can't control the hardware and innovate in that area. It's as much hardware dependant as it is software dependant. They would need a very close partner if they aren't doing this themselves. Windows 10 Mobile will be a fantastic OS with the Continuum changes coming. I've always thought its better than PC SKU of Windows on smaller tablets and if you can go all in on UWP apps you'd have a pretty awesome experience on the next generation of hardware (the existing phones run continuum okay, but performance could be better across the board and that may not all come from software improvements - they have a focus on new features in continuum more so than refining the performance from what I've seen)
  • I own the x3 and even though its a very nice phone, the upgrade in comparison to my 1520 is not that big. Especially not considering the price. I lost all Lumia apps and considering the 950 xl is half the price of the x3 I would recommend getting that. Biggest plus on the x3 is the finger scanner and the fact that it is waterproof. But I don't know if that is worth an extra 350 euro.
  • Imo, msft could've just continued on with Lumia line, mainly with a handful of budget category devices until they launch a Surface phone or mobile.
  • microsoft is playing smart by temporarily withdrawing from the hardware business to focus more on software and preparing for a final showdown when we finally see surface poki  with super windows 10 mobile and this is going to take time 2018->   Poki-> pocket ( surface pocket)
  • Poki makes me think of Pocky, tough "surface pocket" does conjure up good memories of the pocket PC.
  • Surface Pocket
  • My first thought too, but now thinking about it maybe Pocket Surface would be more likely
  • Completely agree
  • John 117?
  • Agreed
  • Yes, yes it should be
  • I too agree with Surface Mobile.
  • Nice article. W10M is so buggy for me even on GA that due the first time in several years I'm considering android
    yuck can't believe I just said that. Word flow had been terrible for a while now causing most of my pain other than Bluetooth and Cortana connection issues.
  • Ios is the only option to Windows imho.
  • Ah, it's not just me having issues with word flow then. It used to be so accurate on WP8. Now it gets every other word wrong.
  • Word flow is horrible now. Was so good Oh 8.1.
  • Totally agree
  • It was awesome in 8.1. I thought they picked up SwiftKey? Should have replaced the newer Word Flow by now...
  • They did buy swiftkey but I'm starting to wonder if they're even planning to integrate it into Windows 10 at all.
  • Surface Phone, mobile, communicator, pocket warmer, palm thingy, talk box or whatever name it will be given..... I realy only care it will kick butt functional-wise.
    ​I didn't care much about the Lumia name either, but I love my Lumia 930... it's the device that needs to be awesome, not just the name.  
  • The name is obviously important for marketing purposes.
  • Surface team have always been straightforward with their device names that strikes its pure function. I'd like it to be Microsoft Surface Mobile since it'd sport W10M. Lumia have got so popular that those who aren't familiar with Windows 10 Mobile / Windows phone OS, would simply call it Lumia. Btw, I'm rocking an L930 myself.
  • Agree, the Lumia name was weird. They could've done better.
  • I'm glad to see you aren't predicting this for a while. About an hour ago I placed an order for an HP Elite x3, and if this came out within 6 months I would inevitably be jealous. I like Surface Go but Note and some of the other suggestions in comments here are good, too. Agreed that Surface Phone would be counterproductive. Trying to market as a competitor to iOS/Android would fail, but if it's a mobile business machine (like the Elite x3's marketing), that gives it a nice niche market to work with.
  • Surface Note for the win! On a side note (no pun intended), my Nseries devices disagree with the presented history of the iPhone defining what a smartphone is. The iPhone only made the mostly all screen capacitive touch screen form factor popular but my Nseries devices had more smartphone functions than any iPhone for years. The reason I didn't buy an iPhone until the iPhone 4 is because I refuse to buy a phone that was less smart than the ones that I already had. When the iPhone launched, without Copy and Paste and many other smartphone features that Symbian and Blackberry smartphone users used and loved, the iPhone felt like going back to feature phone or dumb phone, just with an extremely nice touch screen. The iPhone was extremely limited, barely passable as a smartphone along side the likes of the Nokia N95 8GB and Nokia N82 but it happend the come with a nearly perfect shift in user interaction from buttons and resistive touch screens to the switch to capacitive screens wit