Surface Phone is increasingly becoming more of a concept and an ideology rather than an actual physical device, and Microsoft is taking its first step towards realizing that ideology in the form of a Windows 10 Ultralight Mobile PC to be launched in the fourth calendar quarter of 2017 in collaboration with Qualcomm, which will be supplying the Snapdragon 835 processors designed for ultralight mobile PCs, or “Cellular PCs”, running the full Windows 10 experience.
The announcement came from Qualcomm’s CEO Steve Mollenkopf at the Q2 2017 earnings call last week, at which time he confirmed the launch window:
“Our Snapdragon 835 is expanding into mobile PC designs running Windows 10, which are scheduled to launch in the fourth calendar quarter this year”
Windows 10 on these cellular PCs are compiled specifically for Qualcomm’s systems-on-chip (SoCs), and the devices will run UWP apps from Windows Store as well as have the capability to emulate Win32 applications.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 is currently found on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ as well as Xiaomi’s Mi 6, but this is the first time it will power a PC device.
Along with the unique ability to bring a desktop experience to a mobile device, or as they put it, an ultralight mobile PC, the new chips will also use much less power, will be “always connected to a network” and offer Gigabit LTE support, which is the bridge between current 4G and next-generation 5G wireless cellular connectivity.
Now here’s the juiciest bit: ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley has been told by Terry Myerson, head of Windows, that the Windows 10 on Qualcomm chips would be offered to Original Equipment Manufacturers, or OEMs, in the six-, 10- and 14-inch display categories.
That’s the very thing everyone has been waiting for with respect to Surface Phone – a mobile device (6-inch variant) that can run Win32 applications and UWP apps, and finally bridge the Great Device Divide between desktop PCs and smartphones. As a bonus, there will also be 10-inch and 14-inch variants to address the tablet market. iPad is toast, or so it would seem, if these devices did come out at the end of the year, as planned.
So, will these devices be popular and sell well? To be honest, they better!
This is possibly the last opportunity that Microsoft and Qualcomm will get to disrupt the PC and smartphone markets in a meaningful way, in one fell swoop. Merely having ARM CPUs doesn’t offer much of an advantage over traditional PCs, but put that hardware on a mobile device and offer the full Windows 10 desktop experience, and you have a potential winner that can address the entire device category from smartphones to PCs.
And that’s exactly what prompted Mollenkopf to say “we have an opportunity to disrupt the existing suppliers of the PC and the datacenter,” the second part referring to the work that Qualcomm and Microsoft have done in porting Windows Server to ARM, and the irresistible dig at its rivals that dominate the PC and datacenter markets.
The pieces of the Surface Phone puzzle are finally falling into place, and it looks like we’ll see the first of these devices in time for Christmas. Even if no product under the name Surface Phone is ever released, the mobility and flexibility it brings through the new devices will be strong enough to disrupt not only the PC market, as Mollenkopf puts it, but also the smartphone landscape currently dominated by Android and iOS.