Image Credit: Harry Douhyun Kim

New product categories need to answer, "what," "why," "how," and "when?" In January 2015 I began describing an inking-focused, post-phone, pocket PC with telephony as the "what" of Microsoft's mobile strategy. The "why," was to bring highly mobile PCs to the cellular roadmap to accommodate increasing mobile computing demands. The "how" rested on Windows 10 as a universal OS for all device types and context-conforming hardware states, while Windows Ink supported a digital journal focus. 2018 was the "when."

Between 2015 and now, patents and leaks like Windows Core OSes' role and Project Andromeda's" name began filling in details which I worked into an ongoing narrative. Establishing the distinction between the smartphone and mobile spaces was paramount because many observers erroneously equated Windows-on-phone's demise with the demise of Windows-on-mobile.

A recently leaked Microsoft email confirmed my analysis that Microsoft has indeed been working on an inking-focused, telephony-enabled pocket PC category for the mobile, not smartphone space. Microsoft even boasted it would be disruptive. Though Andromeda can be canceled here's how Microsoft may expect its new PC category, with OEM support and iteration over time, to disrupt the market.

Related: Why Microsoft's Surface 'Andromeda' is critical to the Windows ecosystem

Andromeda and smartphones

Image Credits: David Breyer and Harry Dohyun Kim

As "PC-like" smartphones didn't target, but encroached on the PC market, telephony-enabled pocket PCs won't target but may encroach on smartphones. They're expected to be pocketable, Always Connected Windows 10 PCs boasting capabilities like Windows Ink, iOS and Android integration and more while also being capable of making calls.

With TimeLine, Your Phone and other iOS and Android integration Windows features, users may be able to field phone notifications from these PCs without engaging their smartphones.

Furthermore, smartphones are still trending toward larger, (even folding), tablet-like dimensions to accommodate non-phone usage like web-surfing that dominates smartphone use. Phablet-sized pocket PCs that unfold to mini-tablet dimensions would fit this usage paradigm. Particularly since the mobile web, as well as apps, are highly engaged on smartphones.

How Microsoft and Qualcomm are making PCs post-smartphone devices

PWAs, app gap and pocket PCs

Microsoft's Progressive Web App (PWA) investments, combining the best of web and apps, is meant to bring "apps" like the new Uber PWA, to Windows and pocket PCs.

Since Windows 10 treats PWAs as native universal Windows apps (UWA), Microsoft likely hopes PWAs, legacy apps (via emulation), and UWAs may make pocket PCs capable of doing most of what smartphones with rich app ecosystems and Windows PCs do separately today.

iOS and Android integration could usurp smartphone engagement.

If users find value in phablet sized PCs that expand to mini-tablets when mobile, provides desktop experiences via Continuum when docked and makes phone calls, they may find them more convenient for the web-surfing, media consumption and social media activity that now dominates smartphone usage. They may then see Microsoft's iOS, and Android integration strategically diminishes reasons for them to engage their smartphones directly. This could form a disruptive strategy for Microsoft.

Progressive Web Apps may be the great equalizer

Carriers undone

eSIM-equipped ACPCs combined with Microsoft's selling data through the Microsoft Store gives consumers the power to choose carriers and purchase data "on the fly" from Windows. This new carrier-Microsoft dynamic favors Microsoft.

In January I wrote this creates a competitive environment where carriers would vie for users attention by offering attractive data packages with their ACPCs. Sprint's recent free data promotion for ACPC customers confirms this.

Pocket PCs, as a telephony-enabled evolution to ACPCs, would likely follow this new model. A mobile device category that shifts power away from the current carrier-smartphone paradigm toward consumers and Microsoft would be disruptive.

How ACPCs may give Microsoft the upper hand with carriers

Partnerships for a single device future

As PCs move to the cellular roadmap, chipmakers and cellular infrastructure builders like Intel and Qualcomm, as well as PC and phone makers, are exploring and building for new PC form factors and use cases. Microsoft's impact on the industry by making Windows 10 context sensitive and more mobile-friendly is already impacting the PCs evolution and how companies like Qualcomm are building mobile platforms for the connected PCs future.

We're moving toward a "Westworld-style" single device future.

Microsoft's potential outlook for the Andromeda-inspired PC category likely spans years combining the contributions of advancing processors, 5G rollout and the iteration of OEM partner devices over time. Additionally, via Surface device family collaboration and inking Microsoft is building a use case for the category. Though ambitious, risky and potentially delayed or canceled, Andromeda could be the first bold and real step into a single device category that could be a PC, tablet and phone.

Though reminiscent of sci-fi gadgetry (what innovation isn't?) from the HBO series "Westworld," if Microsoft greenlights Andromeda, and it heralds this one device future that, combined with a potential ACPC-initiated powershift from carriers toward Microsoft - it would indeed be disruptive.

Consider this, the first mobile phone wasn't much to write home about, but the category it spawned has disrupted multiple industries.

Microsoft must leverage partnerships, eSIM and edge computing to position pocket PCs