According to a series of leaks, Microsoft’s been working on a mobile device that blurs the lines between phones and tablets for a few years. But the company has never publicly talked about a Surface Phone, a dual-screen tablet, or anything to do with its “Andromeda” platform that would allow the full Windows 10 operating system to run on phones as well as tablets, laptops, and desktops.
The rumors got a shot in the arm last week when The Verge reported on a leaked memo from Microsoft detailing a tablet that you could fold in half and put in your pocket thanks to a flexible display that basically made the gadget work like a dual-screen phone/tablet hybrid.
The Verge made it clear that there was no guarantee Microsoft would actually release the device it was working on. And now ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley is pouring a little more cold water on the idea: she says her sources say Andromeda won’t be ready this year and Microsoft might never release the dual-screen tablet it’s been developing.
According to Foley, Microsoft had initially been hoping to add Andromeda components to Windows 10 Redstone 5, which is the next major release of the operating system. But now she says Andromeda won’t be included in that update when it’s released this fall.
While part of the reason is that they’re just not ready to go yet, another part is that Microsoft is still trying to figure out whether it even makes sense to release a device like the rumored dual-screen tablet/Surface Phone/whatever it’s called.
On the one hand, the device would have combined a bunch of intriguing technologies including flexible displays, pen input, Windows on ARM, and software that would let you transition from a phone-sized to a tablet-sized user interface.
On the other hand, Windows on ARM hasn’t been particularly well received so far due to the high cost and slow performance of early devices, and Google and Apple have come to dominate the smartphone operating system space. Windows 10 Mobile is pretty much dead at this point and it’s unclear if the promise of running desktop apps on a phone would be enough to tempt people to switch to a full-fledged Windows 10 phone.
The idea of using a single device for all your computing certainly has some appeal. But if a Surface Phone isn’t really powerful enough to run desktop apps as effectively as a cheap PC and doesn’t support the millions of mobile apps available for Android and iOS, it’s going to be a niche device as best.
Sure, it’s a niche device I’d love to play with. And I’m sure there are a lot of people who would be interested in giving a new platform like this a try… but it’s hard to blame Microsoft for deciding that the potential market isn’t big enough to bother releasing new hardware at this point. If Microsoft were a different kind of company maybe it could launch a crowdfunding campaign to gauge interest… but I don’t really see that happening.
That said, Foley says Microsoft’s not giving up on the idea of portable dual-screen devices. The company might use some of the technology developer for Andromeda (or something like it) and release a foldable tablet/laptop style device.
It would likely be larger than a phone, capable of running Win32 applications and not just Universal Windows Platform apps, and it would probably look something like… Intel’s Tiger Rapids reference design and/or the new dual-screen devices coming this year from Lenovo and Asus.