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Several reports over the last several years have suggested Microsoft is working on “Project Andromeda,” a new type of Surface-branded computer that can fit in your pocket. According to an e-mail that was recently obtained by The Verge, Microsoft thinks this will be a “new and disruptive category,” and that the “pocketable Surface” will “create a truly personal and versatile computing experience.”
I sure hope Microsoft has some tricks up its sleeves.
Microsoft hasn’t been relevant in the mobile space since the iPhone launched in 2007. It’s not for lack of trying — Microsoft first attempted to compete with changes to Windows Mobile and then, when that failed, with the release of Windows Phone and eventually Windows 10 for Phones. Those initiatives are all dead now, along with Nokia’s mobile phone business, which Microsoft swallowed in 2013 in a last-ditch effort to matter in mobile.
The company has done an admirable job with other hardware, such as its Surface family of computers that run Windows 10. Revenues from that segment rose 32 percent year over year during the third quarter, which suggests the branding might finally be catching on with consumers.
Those are full-fledged computers and tablets, though, and not devices that fit in our pockets. Renders deemed accurate by The Verge suggest Microsoft’s “Andromeda” Surface will have a touch screen display that can fold in half. That means customers will likely need to interact with Windows 10 — I don’t think Microsoft will try another mobile operating system — without a keyboard. An included stylus might help, though that reeks of the poke-and-type days of Windows Mobile and PDAs.
The processor might also pose a similar problem Microsoft has faced before.
The Verge also said Microsoft hasn’t decided on whether or not it will use Intel or Qualcomm processors. That’s an important distinction, because Windows 10 is an awful experience on Qualcomm’s ARM chips, since it doesn’t support every Windows app. If Microsoft picks Qualcomm, it would be making the same mistakes it made with Windows Phone and the ARM-powered Surface RT — many customers wouldn’t get the apps they want.
Finally, if this is a phone and computer hybrid of sorts, Microsoft is going to have to show the world why they’ll want this over products that run Android or Apple. Nearly all phones sold in the world now run either Android or iOS, despite efforts by dozens of other company’s attempts, including Microsoft’s, attempts to break that apart.
I want a new form factor of gadget. I think laptops and tablets and phones are getting boring. And Microsoft has proven in recent years that it has the chops to build great hardware. I just hope it has a better mobile plan in place than it did the last two times it tried.