This week's Andromeda/Surface Mobile summary!

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Every week seems to bring new stories on Project Andromeda, the fabled Microsoft folding Surface communicator. Whatever it might or might not be called when it finally arrives, this week's rumours and snippets are more negative than positive, implying that work is still needed, this time on both software and hardware, with the latter being 'sent back to the labs' for reworking. All a bit frustrating for the end user who's also a Microsoft fan, of course...

First of all we have Paul Thurrott and his sources, which tend to be pretty good, he reports:

As of last year, Microsoft planned to ship Andromeda in late 2018 but as recently as a couple weeks ago, the company put the plans on ice.

Mary Jo wrote last week that the bits needed for Andromeda would not make it into RS5 and she is absolutely correct in her assessment but there is more to the story. While some assumed that this means that the project is dead, what Microsoft is actually doing is sending it back to the labs to be significantly reworked.

Multiple sources have told me that Microsoft plans to overhaul the software and hardware before releasing the device. At this time, the software and hardware do not create a compelling solution that would move the needle for Microsoft and more importantly the Surface brand which is why when it came to the ‘go, no go’ decision earlier this year, it was not given the green light.

And this makes sense, seeing as it would use an ARM processor, the best it could use this fall would be the Snapdragon 835, a chip that is from yesterday. We know that Qualcomm is working on new chips designed explicitly for PCs and it could arrive as early as the beginning of next year.

All products take time through the design/prototyping/testing phases, typically a year, so if Andromeda really has been sent 'back to the labs' for rework then it might be this time next year, i.e. 2019, before anything is ready for release again.

Then we have Microsoft's Panos Panay guesting on the Wired podcast (367), you can listen to the relevant extract here, here's a text portion:

"I wouldn't say (the future) includes a Surface Phone. I think you have to think about, where is that unmet need, when you think about your product roadmap, when you think about your line-up, of course we're always inventing, of course we're thinking about the new form factor. That doesn't include a Surface Phone, but it includes the way to think about what is that people want to accomplish, and how are they going to accomplish it, and what are those form factors. So I'd say... there will be opportunity.

...The way people will communicate in the future will change, and the form factors will wrap around that.

All a little vague and buzzword-heavy (at least he didn't mention AI or Machine Learning!). Reading between the lines, there are Surface Pocket/Mobile/whatever prototypes and they work well in of themselves, but:

  1. the OS and application ecosystem isn't solid enough yet
  2. the ARM chipset (Snapdragon 1000?) wasn't ready yet
  3. Microsoft is unsure how to pitch such a device to meet a perceived need

This second is the most interesting, of course. Our argument has always been to release something innovative anyway and it'll find its own market (see the buzz around the Gemini, for example). Though in fairness, if the folding tech and internals were leading to a final starting retail price of (say) $1200 (£1000) then I can see why Microsoft's sales people were worried. When faced with the mass-market Surface Go, starting at $399 (£369), which was also ready in terms of hardware but which didn't need any OS tweaks and which was Win32 compatible, this latter was a far, far easier - and safer - launch.

Finally, and on that subject, I have some notes myself on Surface Go and some design mistakes that I think Microsoft made, but I'll come to those in a separate editorial this week.