One of the great conundrums of mobile devices has been how mobility and traditional telephony should fit together. History is littered with the broken corpses of companies that have tried to bridge the gap between delivering data and supporting voice: Palm, Blackberry, and now Nokia, along with money losers such as HTC and Motorola (now owned by Google). I stand before you to say that the concept of a mobile "phone" is dead; it's time to disconnect the word "phone" from mobile devices.
If Microsoft is smart, it will ban the use of the word "phone" from any association with Windows. It has a track record of horrible failure every time it has tried to sell any sort of operating system exclusive for a phone. The latest Windows Phones are a modest success compared to Microsoft's previous efforts over the past decade or so, but nothing that's going to take market share away from Apple iOS and the Android ecosystem.
Success for Microsoft could come through its "one OS for all" philosophy. The smartphone industry has been content to view the phone as a unique device even as tablets and Chromebooks have demonstrated that the differences between a phone and a laptop-like device have been in screen size and user interface rather than the underlying operating system and hardware capabilities.
Microsoft is already demonstrating how Windows 10 and its "universal" apps can be written once, with apps smart enough to automatically adopt the program and user interface to the device they are running on. If the app is running on a tablet or smartphone, you get touch-first controls. If there's a bigger screen or if the app runs on an Xbox One, the app adjusts to take advantage of the screen size and any other unique features.
Before LTE, 2G to 3G smartphones kept silos between voice and data. Even WiMAX had its own special silo between voice and data. LTE blows all that away, with voice and SMS—the two primary "apps" on the thing known as "phone”—running as IP-based apps on an all-IP network. There's no legacy siloing between voice and data.
The trap is fixating on "phone" when the underlying technology has shifted and our communications have shift from "phone" to multi-modal communication incorporating email, IM/SMS texting, social media, voice and even video. It should be no big surprise, given the hurdles it is taking for phone companies to move from TDM to IP and how painfully long a chunk of the business world continues to hold onto Ye Olde Fax.
It isn't a stretch to think that Microsoft and others will be able to put a fully functional "laptop" into the form factor of a phone. Some would argue we're already there with a combination of the cloud and ARM processors, but I'd prefer to have an Intel-laptop grade experience in the palm of my hand and easily dropped into a docking station to support a widescreen LCD, storage, and any peripherals as necessary.
Bets on a Surface "phone" are, therefore, relatively safe bets, but the question becomes how will Microsoft blend a pocket-sized Surface device with the cloud and the ability to cooperate/interoperate to deliver laptop and desktop style experiences? The Surface Pro line is being touted as a laptop replacement? Five years from now, will the Surface "phone" be touted as the Surface Pro replacement?
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