What happened to the Lumia 950 XL's rumored pen?

For the last few months, I have been talking up the Lumia 950 XL including the smart cover and Surface-style pen. To be clear, this isn't a rumor. I have images from Microsoft with the Lumia 950 XL, Pen, and Cover, and I know for a fact it was something being planned.

So, what happened and is the pen still coming?

I have it on good sourcing that no. Not for this generation of phones at least.

While Microsoft won't give me specific reasons – mostly because they won't acknowledge it publicly – I have a few ideas as to why it got canned.

  1. Inking in Microsoft Edge for mobile is not ready – I heard a few weeks ago there are a few things in Edge that are not coming as fast as expected. Inking is one (I have also heard browser extensions are pushed back into 2016). The idea here was you can use the Lumia 950 XL pen to draw in the browser like you can with a Surface. If that is not ready for release at least half your pen story is gone (the other half is OneNote, of course)
  2. Not much to do in Windows 10 Mobile – yet – Besides OneNote and Microsoft Edge Windows 10 Mobile is just not set up to be a pen ready OS at this stage. Later on? Sure, but not now.
  3. Confusion with Surface – If Microsoft tossed in a pen with the Lumia 950 XL everyone would have confused it as being a "Surface Phone." Any why not? At least superficially, that phone would appear to be Surface-y. But the Lumia 950 XL is not a Surface phone and that branding is more than just a name. Throwing a pen at something is not a Surface. Microsoft knows this and likely didn't want to sully the brand.

I speculated on the last #AskDanWindows that the messaging here for a pen was just not clear. It seemed like a "toss it in" strategy. But adding in things just for the heck of it is not what Microsoft is doing these days.

Remember, Microsoft canned the Surface Mini at the very last minute for the same reason. And it was very last minute as I heard those devices were on the trucks headed to Microsoft Stores (Read the write-up by Brad Sams for more information). Yeah, it was a small Surface, but what else? Microsoft is doing things with purposes these days, not what is expected. Take a look at the new Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book and you should see that Microsoft is very serious about their Pen.

If Microsoft is going to bring a pen to a phone, they are going to do it right. As far as I know, the planned pen for the Lumia 950 XL was just an accessory and not core to the experience.

Whatever the reason, I think Microsoft did the right thing. Unless they have a story to tell about the Lumia 950 XL and how integral the Pen experience was to it, - like the Surface - there was no real benefit. For now, the dream of a Windows Phone with Surface Pen has to wait.

So the question is, Do you think Microsoft is silly enough to squander their pen efforts and not bring it to mobile? I don't.

For a related discussion, see my earlier article Reading between the lines: What Panos was telegraphing about those new Lumias.

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.