If Microsoft builds another Windows-powered mobile device, will anyone care?
It all ultimately comes down to the apps and services it runs and whether users find them compelling.
Rumors about Microsoft possibly building a new, foldable mobile device have been circulating for months. The company's filing for a patent on a hingeable "Courier"-like design earlier this year added fuel to the fire, This week, the rumors flared again with claims that the coming device will be heavily focused on digital-ink and pen.
Microsoft designers have been mulling the possibilities of these kinds of devices for several years, as evidenced by the company's "envisioning" videos from earlier this decade. They've considered the possibilities of a foldable mobile device with built-in telephony capabilities, as well as a flexible/foldable soft display. (The images embedded in this post come from some of those futuristic videos.)
Microsoft isn't alone in exploring the foldable phone concept; a just-revealed Samsung patent showed the company is looking at bendable phones, too.
Microsoft's dual-screen, foldable Courier device never made it to market (with some claiming manufacturing costs at that point in time made it infeasible). Microsoft execs killed off the Surface Mini running Windows RT right before Microsoft was set to announce it.
So what could make an Andromeda foldable mobile device -- which is unlikely to debut until 2018, at best -- different this time around? (Just to keep things confusing, Andromeda is both the codename for this possible mobile device and also the codename for the "AndromedaOS" underpinnings of Windows 10. The first Microsoft device powered by the AndromedaOS code could be the Andromeda foldable device.)
Windows 10 on ARM Snapdragon 835-based devices are about to begin hitting the market starting later this year. There's talk they could offer multi-day battery life and will feature built-in LTE cellular connectivity. There's nothing stopping the Surface team from joining the fray -- as long as they can justify to themselves and others that they're creating a new device category.
Microsoft officials say the company is designing hardware differently these days by bringing the Windows, Surface and Office teams all together early in the process to create devices that light up Microsoft software and services.
Windows 10 continues to add support for digital inking and options for moving files and other documents more seamlessly from mobile devices to PCs with the "Continue on PC" and coming Cloud Clipboard features. Microsoft may add even more productivity-focused features to the next couple of Windows 10 feature updates. And Windows 10 S, Microsoft's edition of Windows that can run Microsoft Store apps only, is going to be able to run on ARM, last we heard.
OneNote, Microsoft's digital note-taking app, would be the obvious centerpiece for such a device. It already works across the Web and devices and has a lot of dedicated fans. I, myself, hope Microsoft might have a lighter and simpler version of OneNote in the works -- the same way that it introduced the simpler and more intelligent Sway as a sidekick to PowerPoint.
There are a number of other Microsoft apps and services beyond the obvious email and calendaring, that could make sense on a foldable mobile device. Microsoft's revamped Wunderlist to-do app, known as To-Do, would be a natural. Various Office 365 services, including Teams, StaffHub, MileIQ (mileage-tracking) and Invoicing could make a lot of sense.
I'm assuming Cortana will play a big role in any kind of new Microsoft mobile device, providing users with proactive suggestions about their calendar, potential meeting places and information about people and relevant documents. And Microsoft's back-end business-intelligence services could bring real-time analytics right to users' foldable devices -- just like in those futuristic Microsoft envisioning videos.
While I am intrigued by the concept of a mini-mobile device, I do wonder whether my current way of working makes it a non-starter for me.
For years, I used paper notebooks and non-digital pens to take notes. (I have boxes and boxes of these notebooks stashed away in my closet.) I finally trained myself to type my notes over the past couple of years and have almost entirely abandoned hand-writing anything. I'm not sure I can go back to a device where a pen is the primary input method, no matter how portable it is -- and regardless of all the studies showing handwriting notes helps people remember them far better than typing.
I'm curious: What would make a foldable mobile device interesting to you, readers?