Microsoft Surface UltraMobile due in 2017

Microsoft's race toward UltraMobility Cellular with Windows 10 phones

culminates in the Surface UltraMobile

It began with Windows Phone, continued with Windows RT, was previewed with the Microsoft Courier concept, then morphed into the successful Surface device family. But along the way, Windows Mobile went on life support. Microsoft bought Nokia, and gave us some very decent Lumia handsets, which sold slowly and died. Continuum re-ignited the dream, and HP gave us the Elite X3 combo, then... nothing. Until now. Boom.

Top executives Satya Nadella and Panos Panay are leading Microsoft into the next generation of computing. Current efforts have been far more successful than the previous attempts under Steve Ballmer, which included the failures of Windows RT, Windows Mobile, and the embrace (and subsequent choking) of the Nokia purchase.

Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates stunned everyone with the reveal of the Microsoft Courier concept... but it remained just a concept, and quickly dropped off the radar. Next was the Xbox: a smash hit.

The current crop of software and devices under Satya Nadella and Panos Panay have been successful. The Surface Pro 4 became the superstar, joined by family members in form of the Surface Book and Surface Studio.

The Surface Studio introduced us to a new category of device, along with the Windows 10 Creators Update and its software tools. We also saw accessories like the Surface Keyboard, Surface Eronomic Keyboard, Surface Mouse, Surface Pen, and of course the very new Surface Dial.

While the Surface Studio is very much still in pre-launch, with only limited units available right now, more are expected to ship in early 2017.

Rear View

Briefly looking back, we've seen:

  • Microsoft almost completely missed Music. It launched the Zune, and lost to the iPod.

  • Microsoft completely missed cellular, while the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy were huge hits.

  • Microsoft tried again with the Kin phone, which was a great concept, but failed to gain traction.

  • Microsoft's first tablets, with Windows RT on ARM, were a confusing mix of mouse-based Windows, touch-based Windows, RT apps, non-RT compatibility woes, that ultimately failed, while the iPad won.

  • Microsoft's Courier concept tablet stunned the audience, but remained a concept. It was never built.

  • Microsoft's next tablets, with Windows 8 and 8.1 were still unsuccessful.

  • Microsoft then scored a hit with the Surface tablets on Windows 10, propelled by much better hardware, better chip technology, and much better operating system and software compatibility. The Surface Pro 4 even managed to steal customers from Apple's iPad and iPad Pro.

  • Microsoft teased the planet with the rumoured Surface Mini. It was killed at the last minute.

  • Along the way, Microsoft bought Nokia, and released some capable phones in the form of the Lumia 950 and 950XL, shining the light on Windows 10 Mobile and Continuum. These handsets garnered a small amount of attention from enterprise and pro-sumers, and are entering the end of their lifecycle.

Road Ahead

As Microsoft evolves its Surface device family into the next generation of computing, Microsoft needs a big win. We're seeing hints with Surface and Continuum. We got a big hint with the Courier concept. Now we're racing towards UltraMobility Cellular with Windows 10 phones that carry the power of a full PC in a handheld form factor.

A step above the likes of the Lumia 950 and 950XL is the HP Elite X3. This is a phone with a combination of Continuum and HP Enterprise software, and is available with a laptop-like keyboard and screen combo that uses the brain of the phone as its processor. The X3 can also be connected to an external monitor, keyboard and mouse using the X3 desk dock.

This is the current state of play. What does the future hold?

The Next Step: UltraMobility Devices with Cellular Connectivity

The next logical step for Microsoft seems like it would be finally conquering the smartphone market with an amazing device that competes or beats the iPhone, Galaxy, Pixel, and other leading smartphones.

If you thought that was it, you're wrong.

Microsoft will side-step the smartphone space and leave it to the entrenched players. Yes, really. They already did it with the Surface Studio, going beyond the iMac and the All-In-One, to launch the Surface Studio as a segment-creating-device that offers opportunities no other PC or Mac offers.

Apple, Samsung, Google, and other OEMs will continue to build on their success in the smartphone market, and create even better smartphones. But what if you're side-stepping the smartphone, and creating something new?

What would a new computing category alongside but not competing with smartphones look like?

  • Screen: 5-inch to 6-inch touch screen

  • Processor: Fast desktop class processor

  • Memory: 8gb or more RAM for desktop use cases

  • Storage: 128gb or more SSD for desktop use cases

  • Camera: Front-facing and rear-facing cameras

  • Calling: Camera, Speakers, Microphones

  • Biometric Security: Fingerprint reader or eye/face recognition

  • Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth, Cellular, NFC

  • Battery: High capacity battery

  • Charging: Both quick-charge and standard-charge capabilities

  • Docking: Wired and Wireless docking capabilities

  • Operating System: Desktop class operating system for desktop apps and use cases.

Envision a smartphone-sized device with the power of a full PC. That's the dream, the vision. A full PC in your pocket, that can connect to full-size screens, keyboards, mice, pens, dials, and emerging technologies.

This is just not possible with today's technology. We need to wait for next year's technology.

We need new low-power low-heat processors, new RAM, new low-power high-density storage, new low-power high-fidelity cellular chips. Ultimately it needs to be fanless, power-efficient, well-resourced, and it has to work perfectly if it is to be successful.

The three big breakthroughs needed for this UltraMobile Device to succeed are:

  • Hardware: Highly capable hardware including processors and cellular connectivity

  • Software: Highly capable operating system software and apps

  • Connectivity: Wired or Wireless connectivity with external peripherals like screens, keyboards, mice, external storage, and networking.

Continuum is a half-step in that direction, hamstrung by the limitations of today's technology.

The next half-step in that direction is Microsoft's Project Centennial, bridging the gap from the current Windows desktop software apps to the new Microsoft Universal Windows Package apps that run on any Windows 10 device - phone, tablet, Surface, PC, Xbox.

The ultimate solution is having a full-powered PC in your pocket: the UltraMobile Device.

The three big breakthroughs that are required for UltraMobile Devices to succeed are:

  • Highly-capable Hardware

  • Highly-capable Software

  • Wired or Wireless Docking Connectivity

The pieces are already coming together:

Wired Docking Connectivity:

USB-A, the traditional rectangular port, will have USB3.1 speeds in new PCs in December 2016 and throughout 2017.

USB-C is already here. USB-C with USB3.1 is coming in December 2016 and will be in most new PCs from early 2017.

Thunderbolt 3 is already here, on Apple devices, and is emerging on new Windows PCs from HP, Acer, LG, and others.

The preferred solution here will be USB-C with integrated USB3.1 and integrated Thunderbolt 3. One cable that transfers power, video, audio, data, and can daisy-chain multiple devices.

Imagine a cable running from your phone to a dock or monitor hub, that then connects to a display, keyboard, mouse, storage device, data network, and more. The cable also charges the UltraMobile Device (phone) battery.

Wireless Docking Connectivity.

Wireless Display (WiDi) is already here.

Miracast Display is already here.

Bluetooth Low Energy 4.2 is already here, and can take care of wireless keyboard and mouse connections, pen/stylus connections, and audio.

NFC is already here. A combination of NFC and Bluetooth can authenticate a docked device and pre-select settings on the dock-attached hardware.

Power comes from the battery of the UltraMobile Device, which will need to be charged for prolonged use. Wired or Wireless charging then becomes required. A wireless dock could use a Qi wireless charger or a competing wireless power standard. These are emerging today and will be in use in 2017.

Highly-capable Software

Windows 10 is already here, the Anniversary Update is available now, and the Creators Update is coming in early 2017.

Project Centennial will bridge existing apps to UWP apps for all Windows 10 devices in 2017 and 2018.

Windows on ARM processors is already underway, and has already been previewed on stage at WinHec by Microsoft and Qualcomm. This will soon enable a new a phone, tablet, or UltraMobile device to run full Windows 10 on a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor for desktop-class performance.

Highly-capable Hardware

Microsoft is already working with Qualcomm to port Windows to the ARM processor architecture. A demo has already taken place, and this is well on track to becoming a real product in the second half of 2017 and into 2018.

Again, envision a device with a phone form factor, a 5-inch to 6-inch screen, a fast and low power Snapdragon processor, 8gb or 16gb of RAM, 128gb minimum storage, Wifi, Cellular, Bluetooth Low Energy, cameras, microphones, speakers, a battery, and expandable connectivity through wired USB-C-3.1 and/or USB-C-Thunderbolt-3. Add in the possibility of wireless display projection and wireless power topping up the battery.

Hardware + Software + Dock Connectivity = UltraMobile Device

Now you have the complete UltraMobile Device - a computer in your pocket, that connects to the world around you, running full Windows 10 and Windows Apps, connected to the internet and cellular. It's a phone, it's a computer, it's an internet terminal, it can connect to a lap dock or desk dock, a desktop monitor, keyboard, and mouse. It has touch. It can connect to a touch enabled monitor. It has security with a biometric fingerprint scanner, and with eye/face recognition cameras with Windows Hello. It's so ultra-mobile that it fits in your pocket.

Today, you carry a phone, you carry a laptop, you have a desktop PC, a TV, and an Xbox.

In the near future, you wont need them all.

In the near future, you'll carry an UltraMobile Device instead of a phone, and you'll have a lapdock if you need it (with a screen, keyboard, trackpad, camera, mic, speakers and battery), and you'll have a desk dock (with a large screen monitor, keyboard, mouse, camera, mic, speakers, and a wired or wireless charger).

You'll connect to your printer, scanner, network storage, and other devices over the WiFi network or USB-C Thunderbolt.

You can finally sell your fax machine to your Grandma, your lawyer, or real estate agent - no one else will want it.

Don't worry if you lose or smash your UltraMobile - everything is backed up to your NAS at home or work, and to your cloud storage account.

All the pieces are in place now, or will emerge in 2017.

Microsoft has already garnered hefty support from Intel (WiDi, Thunderbolt, RealSense) and Qualcomm (Snapdragon, Cellular, integrated BLE) to make this vision a reality.

Microsoft is already showing its hardware OEM partners the way by building Microsoft's own hardware including Surface, Surface Book, Surface Studio, and Xbox.

Microsoft can rely on industry-standards including USB, USB-C, Thunderbolt, WiDi, Miracast, and Qi.

Microsoft already has the software infrastructure in place with Windows 10, Windows Hello security, Office, and legions of other software partners.

Currently in the prototype stage and ready to emerge in 2017, are the final two pieces of the puzzle:

  • Software: Windows on ARM, and

  • Hardware: Snapdragon 900.

When these final two pieces of the puzzle come together in 2017, Microsoft and Qualcomm will have a formidable new device on their hands: the UltraMobile Device.

The first UltraMobile Device will be the 'Surface UltraMobile'

The very first device in this category will be Microsoft's own Surface-branded UltraMobile.

It will be pitched not as a smartphone replacement, but as an UltraMobile computer.

To this end, it will launch alongside two accessories:

  1. A lapdock, featuring a touch screen monitor, keyboard, trackpad, camera, mic, speakers, and battery, and the lapdock will be compatible with the bluetooth Surface mouse, as well as the Surface Pen and Surface Dial. The lapdock will connect to the UltraMobile by a USB-C cable or wirelessly using wireless Continuum. The lapdock battery can be charged by USB-C, Surface Connect, or wirelessly via Qi.

  2. A desk dock, featuring a front-facing USB-C port, three rear-facing USB-Cs with Thunderbolt, plus a DisplayPort, HDMI, SD card slot, audio out, and a single lonely legacy USB-A 3.1 port, along with a power-in via USB-C or attached cable. The desk dock may feature a top-mounted USB-C receptacle, similar to the HP X3 dock to charge and sync the UltraMobile in an upright position. The desk dock will also have a sold-separately accessory which is a USB-C to Surface Connect cord, for compatibility with Surface Pro 3, Surface Pro 4, Surface Pro 5, and Surface Book.

The UltraMobile Future: The Surface UltraMobile. (Not the Surface Phone).

No, Microsoft wont let you call it the Surface Phone. It's not a smartphone. It's not competing with smartphones. It's not competing with the iPhone, Galaxy, or Pixel. It's a new category of computer. It's an UltraMobile Device.

The Surface UltraMobile will be the very first UltraMobile Device. We can expect more from Microsoft's hardware partners including HP, Dell, Acer, Asus, and even Samsung. Others may follow.

Microsoft missed mobile. They under-estimated the iPhone. They tried to catch up with Kin, Lumia, and buying Nokia. But they got it right with Xbox and Surface, and they wont miss with UltraMobile. It will be a hit.

Save your pocket money. Your next device will be an UltraMobile.

Until next time,

Xavier Zymantas

XYZ Media Group

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