Windows Surface Phone

Microsoft is now coming out with a Windows Surface Phone. I personally have mixed feelings about this. Microsoft has certainly got the money and interest in doing this and with Continuum, Microsoft is far and away the furthest in combining the power of the desktop into the form factor of a phone. But there are problems:

  • First, the Microsoft Surface Phone operating system is still Windows. Some people might balk at that just by itself, but I think the Windows Mobile OS is very easy to use. However, from a privacy perspective and with the latest backdoors that have been identified and opened up for anyone who wants access, this is definitely not a good investment if you worry about your security. Maybe Microsoft will come around on this issue, but for now I can’t in good conscious recommend any Windows OS in any form factor until they remove the backdoors.
  • Secondly, the app ecosystem is definitely not as good for the Windows Surface Phone if things stay as they are today. Not even close. I talked with one ex-Microsoft employee who said the strategy will be to integrate as closely as possible with the Android market place so that they can leverage Android apps. That’s smart, and by having Ubuntu under the hood and built into the OS that makes Android integration a lot easier, I’d imagine. But without a strong app ecosystem, I can’t see Microsoft doing well. This will have to be announced along side the Windows Surface Phone or I doubt their sales will be much better than any previous attempts at Windows Mobile devices.

It’s cool, it’s got a lot of promise, but with the backdoors and lack of apps, it’s not something I’d recommend for other Smartphone Execs out there. I bet a lot of this will change for the better, but there’s work to be done. It’s a shame though, because Microsoft does have so many advantages with it’s seamless environment switching due to Continuum. But they won’t be the last to pull that thread, I have no doubt!

Windows Continuum

Before going too far down the path of discussing using your phone as a work computer, it’s worth discussing Windows Continuum. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a watch. Microsoft is keenly aware that people are going to start wanting to use their phone as a desktop environment. It’s simply a matter of time before they become far more integrated – as drive density increases, CPUs become less battery hogs and hardware becomes better, people like me will start popping up more and more without even necessarily being aware of the shift they are making.

The video makes some very good points. Firstly, Windows isn’t quite the full desktop environment. The ARM architecture is both a huge advantage for the phone and a big disadvantage for the market place. When I have spoken with Windows evangalists about this and other issues related to increased resolution and the effects on legacy applications their tough love approach is, “Those legacy apps will have to upgrade.”

That’s all well and good, but it does make working on a phone a significantly harder and slower experience. I suppose one could be upset with that answer, but I think Microsoft is basically correct – yes, it breaks stuff, and yes, some legacy apps are no longer supported, but progress can’t be thwarted by one legacy app, or you end up with companies still running IE6.0 internally due to ActiveX controls *cough*.

Continuum has the advantage of having the easy shortcuts like alt-tab and a mouse that make usability far superior than say, an iPhone. However, it’s missing a lot of the core features that people know and love about Windows (for those who know and love Windows that is). Limited access to the file system is a bit of a miss, and lack of support for non-metro apps will haunt it for a while until application developers get on the bandwagon.

I actually love the idea that Windows Continuum stands for, and I really hope they continue developing down this path. If nothing else it shows that Microsoft is actually leading the pack in the desktop/phone crossover space. Only time will tell who wins, but they’ve got a healthy lead in usabability.