Shortly after Microsoft announced the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL, I wrote an article asking 'Does Microsoft want to reboot the concept of a phone?'. I affirmed that while Microsoft 'owns' the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL those phone did not represent what Microsoft was actually doing in hardware – referencing Surface Pro, Surface Book, and HoloLens as counter-examples to those lackluster devices.
Specifically, I called out category creation as their modus operandi when it comes to their first-party hardware:
Microsoft is not about creating hardware for the sake of creating another thing. They only create hardware after consideration of where the market is going to be, not where it is now…Microsoft tried to kickoff modern PC development with the Surface. That was the whole point. What would such a program look like for phone if they wanted to re-invent that category?
That was from October 2015.
I bring this up only to drive the point home that Microsoft's intent here is as clear as day. Just this week, Microsoft's Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela reiterated the same point when he guested on TWiT's Windows Weekly with Paul Thurrott and Mary Jo Foley (head to the 21minute mark):
One question I get…what about our own first-party hardware, our own phones?…For us when we want to do first-party hardware when we want to Studio or Book or Pro the number one goal we have is to essentially try to create a new category of device that hasn't been done before that frankly can expand the total adjustable market for the Windows ecosystem…In all those cases we are looking to create a brand new category that our OEM partners can then follow behind us and do in massive volume, and that hopefully expands the number of devices that people want because we create something new…
Capossela goes on bringing up 2017 for great things from Panos and his team as well something reported before:
When we think about any new hardware whether it's phone, whether it's tablet, desktop, you name it, HoloLens, we want to do something that hasn't been done before, we want to create a brand-new category…2017 is coming, and we'll have great new things in 2017…Panos and team are working super hard. But I think it's important or helpful for our fans to understand why is it we do this stuff and our mental model has to be not just building another device that competes with a premium device in some category but it's got to be something different, it's got to have a different point of view, and hopefully that's creating a new category."
When combined with Microsoft's groundbreaking announcement of Windows 10 on ARM, advancements in mobile processing, the continued improvements to Continuum, inking, 3D mixed-reality, and more it's not hard to put it all together.
Category creation, especially for the mobile space, is something I have been harping on for a long time now. It's also why I shrug off the current "Windows Phone is dead" claims because technically it is true and has been for a while. When it comes to phones and mobile Microsoft is looking to change the concept. All their work in the last two years has been about positioning themselves to do just that.
Nonetheless, exactly what Microsoft brings to the table and when is still a mystery. Recently, Zac Bowden and I have heard of dates slipping in 2018 and that the Snapdragon 835 is not Microsoft's target processor, but something more advanced. A device with a foldable display is also another bit I have heard referenced (but not confirmed). Clearly, Win32 emulation and a composable shell for the UI is in the mix too.
Microsoft's hardware group aka "Surface Team" has told us before about release schedules for products: "When it's ready." That is how they operate, and it's an appropriate guidance for such a high-profile product.
With Surface Pro, Book, Studio, and HoloLens, can Microsoft do it again with Surface Mobile? History is on their side, but the proof is when they announce it and how the public reacts. Skepticism is warranted, but some confidence is too.