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 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

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central. He is also the head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007, when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and watches. He has been reviewing laptops since 2015 and is particularly fond of 2-in-1 convertibles, ARM processors, new form factors, and thin-and-light PCs. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.