How a Surface Phone Could Still Make Sense Post-Elite x3

How a Surface Phone Could Still Make Sense Post-Elite x3

While a lot of things were going through my mind as I listened to HP justify its Elite x3 Windows phone, the one thing I kept coming back to was this: Given the incredible specs and extensibility of HP’s new handset, how can a rumored Surface phone even compete?

I discussed this topic at length with Windows Central’s Daniel Rubino the night of the HP briefing—thanks again for the ride home, Dan—and with others in the Microsoft blogosphere, and I posited a few ideas earlier today on Twitter. So here’s a collective, Monday Morning Quarterback-type view of what Microsoft might do with a presumed Surface phone given what HP just announced.

Surface look and feel. This is the big one, and it’s impossible to imagine a Surface phone without the iconic magnesium build quality that makes Microsoft’s in-house devices stand out.

PureView camera. For all the drool-worthy specs on the HP Elite x3, one thing isn’t overwhelmingly impressive: The rear camera. While it’s possible that HP’s camera is high-quality, it’s unlikely to approach the amazing quality of the cameras on the Lumia 1020, 1520, Icon, 930, or 950/950 XL. And while we’re speculating, I’d loveto see Microsoft finally take PureView to the next generation by offering two much-needed improvements: A dedicated camera chipset to improve performance and optical zoom.

Intel x86. While HP told me that Intel’s x86 platform was “years” away from being viable in a smart phone, the ability to dock a phone and run real PC applications—including desktop applications like Chrome, iTunes, and full Microsoft Office—would be incredible.

Surface Pen support. Microsoft’s Panos Panay has already said that some future phone from his group will support Surface Pen, and many had expected this support to appear in the Lumia 950/950 XL. So this is a no-brainer.

Make it a Surface. This is, to me, the biggest chance for Microsoft to make a difference. To date, all Surface devices have been tablets that turn into PCs with a magnetically-attached keyboard cover. What if Surface phone were a phone that could turn into a PC with a keyboard cover/laptop form factor sleeve of whatever type? It would be like the x3’s Mobile Extender, but you could perhaps slide/dock the phone right into the device’s body. And that body would of course look and work like a Surface.

PC dock. Regardless of the Surface sleeve/body noted above, Microsoft will need to sell a Continuum Dock for Surface phone, of course. But it needs to be more than the current Microsoft Display Dock that works with the Lumia 950/950 XL, and it could perhaps have the guts—x86 processor, dedicated RAM and storage—that makes the phone a real PC, assuming that the phone itself is still an ARM-based device.

Sell it directly to consumers. HP is wise to avoid the competitive retail market, but Microsoft needs to sell its devices directly to consumers. This means selling them online and its own retail stores, at reasonable prices, and unlocked.

Obviously, it’s fun to speculate.


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