Surface Phone and huge Windows 10 Mobile Redstone 2 update slated for April 2017

Lumia 950 and Surface
Lumia 950 and Surface (Image credit: Windows Central)

Microsoft is reaffirming their commitment to Windows 10 Mobile as a recently revealed internal email suggests, but what about the reference to future hardware? Microsoft's Terry Myerson mentions that they are "currently in development of our next generation products."

New information reveals more clues about the so-called Surface phone.

"Not proud" of Lumia 950 and XL

Ever since the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL were revealed by Microsoft back in October of 2015, I have been saying that those phones do not fit with Microsoft's current device philosophy. The evidence was clear on stage and for anyone who compared the innovation and design of the Surface Book with those phones.

Microsoft feels the same, as I am told the company is not very proud of those phones or the current state of Windows 10 Mobile software. Reviews of both phones by tech sites have been negative, and even fans of Windows Phone and the Lumia line feel underwhelmed. The failure of those phones is evident with the low sell-through of those devices and the resulting 'buy one, get one free' sale at the Microsoft Store.

Microsoft has made a lot of progress with the software since November with eleven OS updates, but Microsoft will be focused on bringing that mobile experience up to snuff after the Redstone 1 update.

While none of this should be surprising, it is nice to know that Microsoft is not delusional about the current state of Windows 10 Mobile.

Surface Phone and Redstone 2 (and 3)

Microsoft is planning to release their so-called Surface phone by April 2017. I have reported an early 2017 date before, but I have now heard more specifics about that schedule through new channels.

The reason for the delay of new hardware - including presumably Surface PCs as initially reported by Mary Jo Foley - is Microsoft waiting for the completion of Windows 10 Redstone 2. That OS refresh will bring new features for PC and especially mobile.

Currently, Redstone 1 is in late stages of development and has been publicly named as the Windows 10 Anniversary Update slated for release later this summer. Many of the features were recently documented in our recent deep dive on last week's Insider release of Windows 10 build 14238. That OS refresh focuses mainly on PC with some notable new features for Mobile as well.

More interestingly, for the first time I hear of a Redstone 3 update for Windows 10 and mobile through multiple sources. I am told both Redstone 2 and Redstone 3 are going to be heavily focused on "innovation around mobile phones."

Redstone 2 and 3...to be heavily focused on mobile phones

All of this news lines up with Terry Myerson's often-cited quote from the Verge that Windows Phone is not a focus for the company this year. In that quote, Myerson notes "there will be a time for it to be our focus" and that looks to be in 2017 with these Redstone OS updates.

In other words, Microsoft is prioritizing Windows 10 and the mobile version will get its due. They are not, however, abandoning the platform as has been interpreted by some in the press.

A secure future for the Surface phone?

Microsoft is also planning on positioning the Surface phone (assuming that is its final name) with two goals in mind:

  1. Most secure phone in the world
  2. The best phone for productivity

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has repeatedly referred to productivity as a Microsoft's key strength in personal computing and a differentiator from the competition. From that perspective, it makes sense that Windows 10 for the phone will continue to build off that base as it goes forward with its mobile plans.

Continuum and Win32 is the future

Microsoft will also continue to invest in and develop its Continuum feature for mobile as a key differentiator. Currently, devices like the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL along with the Acer Jade Primo and VAIO Phone Biz can connect to larger displays with the OS scaling appropriately to simulate a PC-like experience.

However, one weakness in this early version of Continuum is the inability to run classic Win32 apps. HP is addressing this gap through app-virtualization for the forthcoming Elite x3 mega-smartphone due this summer. That process involves running Win32 apps on a remote server and the recipient phone being able to run those Win32 classic apps remotely. This ability gives business users the flexibility to use one device all the time.

Microsoft evidently sees this as the future as I hear they are investing in and betting on making Win32 apps and Continuum a feature for the Surface phone. This information about this strategy is very recent, and Microsoft refers to it as an attempt to make the phone a "real alternative to a computer".

Surface phone may be a "real alternative to a computer"

Exactly how that happens is not yet clear, but it looks to be a central feature of whatever is coming with Windows 10 Redstone 2 and Microsoft's next-gen mobile hardware. I have reported on Microsoft's collaboration with Intel on mobile equipment tied to the project, but much of that information is vague at this time.

Coming into focus

The bad news for Windows 10 Mobile users is that the next year will be one of waiting in anticipation of what Microsoft does next. Terry Myerson's recent email suggests OEM partners have more devices coming out that run Windows 10 Mobile offering some reprieve.

The real push for mobile is not until 2017

Additionally, Microsoft will be continuing to release more iterations of Windows 10 Mobile until they get it right, regardless of what the media and market think. Microsoft pushed out eleven updates to Windows 10 Mobile in just five months, and it seems reasonable that current Windows 10 Mobile devices could see at least another twelve updates at a minimum over the next year leading up to Redstone 2. That number of updates could go as high as twenty or more if their current release cycle continues. Such an aggressive update schedule does make you wonder how much the OS can evolve in a year.

The big push for Windows 10 Mobile, however, is still ahead in early 2017 as Microsoft pivots its focus back to its mobile story after this summer's OS update. Can the company bring something that is both productive and disruptive to the mobile industry? We'll have to wait and see, but Redmond is certainly going to try.

Daniel Rubino
Editor-in-chief

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been here covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics and ran the projectors at movie theaters, which has done absolutely nothing for his career.

457 Comments
  • If you want to go by facts and figures, Windows Central have been pretty "solid" about alot of things. That's not my opinion and that's a fact. My comment was in reference to context of the article, I'd rather take his word on it then some article on forbes for example. As I don't know the exact nature of the information, I said "probably" but like I said it's apparent you're looking for a time wasting circular argument. So with that end of discussion.
  • Hope they bring the teased interactive tiles on update 2
  • basically soon(tm).
  • As usual, it's always been a wait game for MS mobile. Always the next one will save the Mobile. But that never happened. Redstone 2 will be only for surface phone, all lumias will stay out of the upgrade. That's why we won't see any new lumias. And the cycle starts again...
  • If they would just fix Bluetooth and Groove, I would be happy.
  • If we already knew Surface phone will be released in 2017, Microsoft would have had great sales for 950s
  • Good point.
  • I got the impression that Windows Central was pushing the Lumia 950/950 XL.  Half heartedly but more positive than negative. Almost every other review site was negative on the new Lumias.  Just go back and read them.
  • I don't know about pushing them, but they covered the newest Windows-powered devices, as I would expect them too.  They have been critical of the 950, but also quick to point out things that they like.  I like a lot of things about my 950, but I see it as a stepping stone from my 1020 until the "Surface Phone" arrives in a year. 
  • And it's a very good stepping stone. I had a 1020 and loved it for a good while, but we have to admit the specs were crap. In terms of performance and how nice the phones are to use the 1020 doesn't compare to the 950 or pretty much most mid range phones you can buy these days (Except on the camera sensor). I'll get Microsoft's next phone if it does something special, but I'm waiting to see what they come up with before I get excited - I already know if they did x86 apps in Continuum it wouldn't be suitable for the work I do anyway so it couldn't replace my computers (SP3 and Desktop) but I'd be tempted into getting one to show others, clients etc. I won't buy one based on cosmetics alone, because I actually really like the 950 and I like the removable backplate, battery etc.
  • Love the design also.
    Removable backs are also great when you drop em. I dropped mine 4-5 Ft onto concrete the back came off and I cant find a scratch. The impact was lessoned by the back coming off.
  • yeh im sure the 950 runs great but like alot of people i wont buy a phone that looks like cheap plastic.  I wish they had made it closer to the 930 as that was what i was expecting.  The 950 should have been named the 590 to fit the 520 line.
  • The 950 would have been quite the spec leap from the 520.  
    Anyway, I don't think my phone looks like cheap plastic.  I don't even notice the looks, so it must not be bothering me too much. Or maybe I'm focused on that screen...which is the largest portion of the aesthetic and it's beautiful. 
  • yeh im sure the 950 runs great but like alot of people i wont buy a phone that looks like cheap plastic.  I wish they had made it closer to the 930 as that was what i was expecting.  The 950 should have been named the 590 to fit the 520 line.
    Have you ever held a 950XL? I felt the same as you, until I picked one up at the MS store. it almost looks like the back is made of ceramic. cool to the touch and just enough "grit" as not to be slippery in your hand. Not to mention, it was way slimmer than the 920 I had in my pocket at the time, and much lighter. My opinion changed immediately.
  • Not sure about your cheap plastic comment. I really like the phone and the "high quality" of plastic used. It can stand a lot of drops and still looks great. The screen of the phone looks very bright and sharp. Galaxy S7 may look better now, but when the phone came out it had comparible or better screen than then available devices. To me the Lumia 830 has one of the best looks, but again, that is my view point. Originally, coming from a 1020 (whose camera stopped working), I thought the camera circle on Lumia 830 looked like a 1020 wannabe, but now I feel it is one of the best looking Lumia device.
  • It honestly doesn't feel cheap. Feels somewhat comparable to an S4 or something. I'm just thankful they haven't been infected by "GLASS ALL THE THINGS" trend at Samsung or aluminum.
  •    
  • Good points. People tend to think that their ideas about subective things like "design" are universal.  The design of the 950 doesn't bother me, at all.  The only design that currently sticks out to me, is the S7 Edge...that edge is about the only new design element out there.   I still have my 1020 and will be using it is a video camera for a project that I'm working on. We'll use the 1020 and a Canon DSLR to shoot. My 950 will make an appearance on-camera, but I can't shoot with it.  For some reason, the camera app doesn't recognize external mics plugged in to the headphone jack. It's quite annoying.  So, the 1020 will take care of the scenes that we're using phone cam  footage for.  I like the backplate being able to be removed and give access to the replaceable battery. NOW, if I could only find where they sell those sneaky batteries.
  • If you don't live in Europe, asking Microsoft may help you find one.
  • I love the removable covers... I don't want an all glass metal phone. The 950 is great. The different cases mozo makes highlights the unique design to give everyone something they like... I guess a metal shiney back cover should be an option for some... I personally do not want that... But if no compromise is made other than a non removable battery, a surface design like phone will still get me. My 640 is used everyday... I swap covers depending on my activity. I would not put my blu life one x in the same situation as I do my 640... 640 is just stronger. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Generally speaking, when any site includes links to purchase a phone on the Microsoft Store or Amazon or where ever, I get the impression that they are encouraging people to buy.  Like the advertisement at the bottom of the home page on msn.com.  The links aren't there just for decorative purposes to spiff up the web page.  Also, you wouldn't encourage people to buy something that you thought wasn't worth the money, would you?
  • More like MS and and Panos wanted the 950 to be a greater device, but due to the lack of time since he was put in charge, they couldn't change much. Even though it might mot seem great visually compared to a S7, Continuum, the camera, the triple led and the specs are good
  • My wife has a 950XL. Biggest problem is that Windows 10 Mobile just isn't as good as 8.1. I wish it was. It's not.
  • Pretty much agree, but W10M is getting there.
  • Microsoft came out and said it was a phone for present windows users and not new users, it was something for windows fans to buy till something else hint hint, microsoft said this lol.  Microsoft knew this wasnt gona sell well, they knew it wouldnt grow their market share, its strange how people seem to not remember microsofts coments.
  • Would be like Toyota releasing a new car and saying, the brakes, lights & radio don't work, but this one is for the fans so its OK. WTF?!
  • Except it's nothing like that. A car with no brakes or lights will kill you.  The complaints about the phone are about things that are inconvenient or annoying.  
  • Was it not the toyota prius that were having problems with brakes not working some years ago. resulting in car crashes with people dying?
    I haven't seen people dying from a phone having some battery issues or restarts....
  • No the brakes were fine. The incidents were investigated and no issue was found other than people using inappropriate mats which could cause the pedals to jam. The 2011 Prius was released with a radio that sometimes just cut out for several seconds though for no apparent reason.  
  • Great effing analogy, NOT.
  • Yet they have voting rights. We're doomed.
  • Even after Redstone 3 and new Hardware in 2017... I doubt it will make much dent in Smartphone marketshare. I think Surface Phone will be a niche device with Business focus and will not sell in any significant numbers for consumers oustide of fans...
  • So far, whoever I have spoken with that owns a Windows phone, haven't upgraded cause they were waiting for Surface phone. My wife got tired of her 920 and eventually decided to get 950 a few months ago. Glad she did, cause this won't be here till mid-2017. My brother bought a 640 in the meantime. Two people in my office who sit near me use Lumia devices. Both want to upgrade, but were waiting for a bigger jump than 950/XL. Now, the question is, do we upgrade now or wait another year.
  • I was the same with my 920. Broke the screen one too many times so bought a 535 to tide me over. Lost that last week and just took delivery today of a 650. My wife's 820 was basically dead and she needed a new laptop too, so thought we'd try continuum but I couldn't justify a 950 for myself when my main PC is the very portable SP3 and I don't need continuum. 950 looks better than people give it credit. 650 looks fantastic, especially for the price.
  • A lot of folks didn't upgrade because the Surface phone was supposed to come out this summer. Then it was early 2017. Do you really wanna bet that the new April 2017 deadline will be met? I got my 950XL in February and it looks like it'll have a year-and-then-some of life while I wait.
  • The bigger question is, will Microsoft actually release this phone or kill it at the last minute because they don't have a market for it. If it is running W10m, then it will not sell. They need something new and fresh. Windows phone is dead. Hardware isn't going to change that. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • The ads you see on other websites are actually tracking what you usually search for through you Advertisement ID. If someone doesn't search for Lumia phones, they don't get to see those ads.
  • Well, at launch, they really weren't good phones. W10M was not ready back then, and the OS still has room for some obvious improvements. Right now, I'd just be happy if stability got a little better, but I'm liking my 950 more with each OS update. Now that I know MS has bigger plans for the platform, I'll keep with it. I just hope MS doesn't abandon the 950 when Surface phone nears.
  • That's my c