Will your next phone be a PC?

Here’s something I thought I’d never say: Microsoft’s already cooler than Apple and getting cooler by the day. Surprisingly, it’s true. It was revealed a while back that Microsoft customers are more satisfied with their tablets than Apple customers. Apple still has the market share but Windows tablets are roaring forward in a completely unexpected way.

I am as surprised as anyone else to say it, but Microsoft’s Surface and similar tablets are actually pretty good. Keep in mind I once said the hardware was “doomed to fail.” I also called it a “bag of suck.” But four years later, Microsoft has actually turned it into a winner. It’s Apple who seems to be stuck looking for ways to innovate.

How did they do it? They ditched the dead-end “Windows RT” operating system and made Windows 10 work the way users wanted, not the way Microsoft wanted. They stopped selling the flat membrane keyboard cover and now only sell a keyboard that is as good as any iPad keyboard. And, slowly but surely, they enticed developers to start making Windows apps.

The bottom line is, if you want to watch Netflix on a tablet, you can use Apple or Microsoft. If you want to play Candy Crush, Apple or PC. You can “sorta” use Microsoft Office and Photoshop on iPad, too, but when it comes to the thousands of programs people want to use, the thousands of ways they want to use the computer, Surface Pro 4 is the better bet. It’s a real PC that acts like a real PC when you want it to. It also acts like a tablet when you want it to, and it has battery life and screen quality equal to an iPad.

So, it seems the impossible has happened and at least for this one moment, Microsoft has beaten Apple at its own game. That hasn’t happened since maybe 1990 when Windows 3.0 came out and all of a sudden people could use Lotus 1-2-3 as well as a paintbrush program on the same hardware.

If Microsoft can win in the tablet game, could the phone game be far behind?

Apple hasn’t really had missteps along the way, but in the last five years, Android phones have gotten better and more sophisticated, and since they’re often cheaper and easier to promote, they’ve ended up in more hands. Apple used to hold the exclusive on magical slabs of glass you could hold in your hand, and now they’re just one player.

In the meantime, there was Windows Phone. Microsoft’s software started powering handheld devices in the mid-1990s, and they evolved into competent, yet patently uncool, phones in the mid-2000s. Despite a fairly cool user interface and the ability to tightly integrate with PCs, they never caught fire. There are still a few Windows Phones sold today but very few; hardly enough to register and you keep hearing stories about how Microsoft could abandon phones altogether.

Or will they?

You know, the mid-2000s argument for PCs versus iPhones was that PCs were slow, crashed a lot, and didn’t give you a good touch-based experience. Think about it… when was the last time you had a really bad crash on a modern PC? And the touch stuff is getting better (although the onscreen keyboard is still inexplicably bad.) Considering that today’s phones are about as powerful as PCs from 5 years ago, what would be stopping Microsoft from creating a full-featured computer the size of an iPhone 7 Plus? Give it a touchscreen and a dialer and it’s a phone. You could connect a mouse and keyboard via Bluetooth and a display using any one of the wireless display protocols. All of a sudden it’s the ultimate portable computer, because unlike previous attempts at phone/computer hybrids, it’s a full-featured PC.

Honestly even if this were $100 more expensive it would be ok since you wouldn’t need a separate computer. As for storage, it could all be constantly backed up in the cloud so if you dropped it, you wouldn’t lose anything. Buy another one, log in with your Microsoft account, and after a few hours on Wi-Fi you’d be hard-pressed to tell you even changed devices. And did I mention it would also be a phone?

Personally I say all bets are off. Here in 2017, Microsoft is an innovator and Apple’s playing catchup. Who knows where it will go in 2018?

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.