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Microsoft may reveal its Surface Phone in second half of 2016

Microsoft may reveal its Surface Phone in second half of 2016

Panos Panay and the Surface team are building their own ultimate Windows Phone — but you’ll be waiting a while for it.

Sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans have revealed that the rumored Intel-powered Windows 10 phone slated for May 2016 has been cancelled. Instead, an all-new flagship phone lead by Panos Panay and the team of engineers that built the Microsoft Surface and Surface Book has been given the green light. Slated for a release in the second half of 2016 this may be the long-wished-for Surface phone. Here is what we know and what we don’t.

Earlier in July I noted that sources had told me that Microsoft’s super-secret phone project was slated for May 2016. Almost nothing was known about the venture except that the phone was metal, and somehow Intel was involved. At the time, I was lead to believe it was a Microsoft project, which never sat well with me (more on that below), but it seems it was yet another Nokia carryover.

Any details about the project, however, are now moot. The latest I hear is that this ‘metal’ phone has been cancelled.

Although supporters of Windows Phone probably just gasped in horror, this news is more interesting than it seems on its face. There is also flip side to the cancellation: Panos Panay and his Surface team, who are now responsible for all of Microsoft’s premium device engineering, are getting their shot at Windows Mobile and making a premium flagship phone.

Surface Phone?

The most obvious question is whether this will be the shoot-to-the-moon Surface phone that has been alleged ever since the first Surface tablet was announced years ago. Unfortunately, details of what exactly this device is remain unknown.

surface-panoy

The most I have heard is they are currently exploring different technologies. The engineering team has the ability to fabricate hardware right on Microsoft’s campus, so that experimentation should not be a surprise. Indeed, a phone prototype was recently spotted at their facilities leading to more speculation about a ‘Surface phone’ existing someday.

My guess is they are still exploring design, hardware and features and that is something that likely won’t be finalized until mid-2016. Interestingly, I keep hearing it being referred to not as “Surface phone” but just as “Panos’s phone”. The project may also go by the codename of NorthStar although I have been unable to find any more information about its connection to this project.

Intel’s involvement

Intel is also involved in this project suggesting some overlap in what was planned with the now-scrapped ‘metal phone’ that was a Nokia design. Presumably their role is in co-developing a chipset for the phone beyond the normal Qualcomm ones found in modern smartphones today.

Intel’s connection to this project is the most tantalizing. Many speculate that this will be a device that runs an x86 chipset or is something much more powerful than current Qualcomm Snapdragons. The ultimate vision some of us have is that such a device could not only run Windows Store apps but classic Win32 apps. A true computer in your pocket.

The problem with that idea is that there are a lot of technical problems to solve. For now, we will have to wait until something more definitive comes out. My hunch is this is one of the technologies they are exploring, but its ability to make the cut to the final product is not guaranteed if the experience is poor.

Timeframe

Multiple sources have put the planned date for this phone as sometime in the second half of 2016. I have heard as early as August but also a more general Q4 2016 suggesting a fall release.

Assuming this phone is lining up with Microsoft’s other projects there are two possible scenarios:

August 2016 – This date seems to line up with Windows 10 Redstone aka the next big OS release from Microsoft. The site WinBeta recently claimed Redstone would improve on Continuum. More specifically, Redstone would let apps seamlessly transfer presence from the phone to the PC and even let you make calls from a PC through your phone. Tying that into some new phone hardware could be attention-grabbing.

However, the planned date for Redstone is still a bit of a mystery.

Fall 2016 – Putting the date forward to an October or November release for the ‘Panos phone’ could line it up for a fall refresh of Microsoft hardware. Nevertheless, it is not yet clear if Surface and Band are on a yearly schedule or an 18-month one. There were 18 months between Surface Pro 3 and Surface Pro 4, but that almost entirely hinged on Intel Skylake being available for the market.

If Microsoft is on a yearly schedule then another October event for Surface Pro 5, Surface Book 2, Band 3 and the first ‘Surface Phone’ would also make sense. Plus, it makes the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL a one-year high-end phone, something that is common these days with Apple, HTC, Samsung and others.

Until Microsoft announces this phone, there is not much else that can or should be said. For now, the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL stand as the high-end offering for Windows 10 Mobile, and we expect them to hold that position for several months, if not an entire year. However, like all things in tech there is always something around the next bend, and the Surface Phone could be it.

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