Microsoft hasn’t revealed any solid plans for a mobile device smaller than a tablet in a long time. Over the years, we’ve seen the so-called “Surface Phone” appear in rumors but given Windows 10 for mobile appears to be discontinued, that likely won’t be a viable product anytime soon.
We’ve also seen rumors of a new product that’s less of a phone and more of a portable, foldable PC, currently referred to as “Andromeda.” Here’s everything we know about Microsoft’s next big hardware product, whether it will ship as Andromeda or some other Surface branding Microsoft decides to use.
The Surface that may never surface
Andromeda, once rumored to make its debut at the end of 2018, is supposedly put on indefinite hold. The setback seems to stem from Microsoft’s recent move to reshuffle its internal teams to better focus on artificial intelligence and cloud computing. The refreshed Windows team will build services and experiences based on these two aspects.
Given the new focus, executives reportedly decided to pull the Andromeda project due to scheduling and quality. The device had no real target audience, nor did it have a supporting app ecosystem. Based on Andromeda’s design, app developers would need to re-tool their current applications or build new ones from scratch to support Andromeda’s unique dual-screen design and related features.
According to insiders, executives allegedly want to completely overhaul the software and hardware. In Andromeda’s current state, it simply doesn’t create a compelling solution that will disrupt the mobile market as originally intended, nor does it justify paying a premium price for a niche product. That said, the software components and services used by Andromeda will not be included in the next Windows 10 feature release, aka Redstone 5, slated to arrive in October. They may not even appear in Redstone 6 launching in 2019.
Prototypes hint toward the design
Prior to news of Microsoft putting the project on ice, the latest information about Microsoft’s secret Andromeda device came from unnamed sources who claimed the latest prototype could transform into five distinct form factors using a 360-degree hinge: Closed, Flat, Convex, Conclave, and Full.
For Closed, the two screens would simply face each other to snooze/close the device like a book. Concave would be similar to the Laptop mode seen with 2-in-1 devices while Convex would emulate the Tent mode. Flat mode would create a tablet-style device while Full mode would see the backs of both screens coming together with the touchscreens facing outwards.
It was this Full mode that the reported telephony features would come into play. But Andromeda was never really slated to be a smartphone at its core. Instead, it would serve as some type of hybrid set to revolutionize the mobile market much like Apple did with the original iPhone.
Prior to the prototype’s appearance, reports by inquisitive souls at E3 2018 claimed that Andromeda was indeed a pocket-focused device with what appeared to be a versatile nature, somewhere between a phone and a computer. Additionally, reports said that the plan was to release Andromeda in 2018, confirming hopes that had been around since Andromeda rumors first surfaced.
The late 2018 release window made sense from a competitive angle. Prototypes and reports from Computex and other events revealed that other computing companies are preparing their own two-screen clamshell devices. Our best look at what the Andromeda device could look like came from Intel, which showed off the “Tiger Rapids” prototype, a dual-screen Windows 10 PC with a 7.9-inch LCD on one side and an E-Ink panel on the other. This prototype alone gave Microsoft good reason to get Andromeda on shelves as quickly as possible to become the first mover — or at least, not left behind.
Lurking under the surface
Unnamed sources claim that Microsoft is currently testing Qualcomm’s unannounced Snapdragon 1000 all-in-one chip – which is based on ARM’s Cortex-A76 processor core architecture – on a variety of devices spanning from desktop PCs to its secret Andromeda device. The Snapdragon 1000 will reportedly see up to 35 percent better performance and up to 40 percent more power efficiency than Qualcomm’s current Snapdragon 845 chip.
The upcoming Snapdragon 1000 will supposedly support 16GB of system memory and 128GB of storage while consuming only 12 watts of power, which is lower than Intel’s Core i5-8250U and Core i7-8550U processors. This chip is a likely candidate for Microsoft’s Andromeda device, given that Qualcomm’s just-launched Snapdragon 850 chip is designed to bring increased performance to a second generation of “always connected” Windows 10 PCs.
What we know about the “Andromeda” design
We first saw Andromeda mentioned in the Windows Insider Windows 10 release, build 17025. As WalkingCat indicated on Twitter:
17025 Xaml stack is aware of a "ComposableShell.Composers.Andromeda.exe" thingy
— WalkingCat (@h0x0d) October 27, 2017
Basically, this means there was some very interesting code under the heading of Andromeda, which appeared to be specifically designed for a mobile platform Microsoft had not yet released. Speculation abounded and it seemed clear some kind of small Surface device was on its way.
We didn’t know much more than this, other than it wasn’t like to be announced until 2018 at the earliest. But then a patent filing for Andromeda dropped, and now we know a whole lot more. Check out the interesting illustrations below, found in the patent.
As you can tell, Andromeda looks like a clamshell phone that opens up into a mini keyboard. Something even larger than the Galaxy Note, but significantly smaller than the average tablet — so it may not technically be a phone at all.
You may remember, back in the 2000s there was a brief era of mini keyboard smartphones, and even Microsoft’s own (since abandoned) Courier project seemed interested in this idea.
From what we can see of Andromeda, however, it would unfold into a larger touchscreen than any past phone. It also has no physical buttons, as the keyboard section is marked “display” in the illustration, and appears to be used as a keyboard further down.
Another interesting point is the full illustration devoted to showing how the Andromeda could be angled up as a stand to show basic time and date information. This seems to indicate that the phone may also be used as an alarm clock (and how many of us do that with our phones anyway) and a desk-based notification system.
The Andromeda news also discredits past rumors, such as the one that said the Surface Phone would have a 5.5-inch screen (Andromeda’s screen appears to be much larger).
Panos Panay in charge of New Mobile Device
A report from Windows Central suggests that an earlier phone project has been canceled by Microsoft, and has been replaced by an entirely new phone design to be built by the Surface team, led by Microsoft hardware lead Panos Panay.
The phone was previously referred to as the “Panos Phone” according to Windows Central’s sources. Panay is in charge of the team that designed the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book, meaning we might see a smartphone with a similar design.
Microsoft also purchased surfacephone.com
If you’re looking for a hint that Microsoft may introduce a Surface Phone sometime in the future, then look no further than one Reddit user’s discovery in late January 2016. It appears that Microsoft owns surfacephone.com, and the company even went as far as redirecting it to the main Surface website.
It’s important to point out, too, that surfacephone.com was actually registered in May 2007, so it’s not like Microsoft recently purchased it to get ready for a new Surface Phone launch.
Furthermore, Microsoft’s Surface page is within microsoft.com, as in https://www.microsoft.com/surface. Microsoft isn’t even using surface.com for its current crop of Surface devices, and so why would the company use surfacephone.com for a Surface Phone if it gets released?
Companies typically buy domain names such as this to avoid confusion or scamming issues if there’s a chance they could release a product under this name in the future.