In some ways, Microsoft's Windows Phone platform feels like a missed opportunity. Had things been executed differently, it might have been big, giving Android and iOS a run for their money. Instead, it struggled to gain any kind of real traction in the marketplace, and Microsoft moved on. The potential of Windows Phone could have been, however, might be realized by the long anticipated Surface Phone, and some recent rumors suggest the device might support Win32 apps if and when it shows up.
Microsoft has proven it can compete in hardware with its Surface products, despite a rocky start that saw the Surface RT flounder among more fully featured 2-in-1 devices. The company learned its lesson and today the Surface Pro and Surface Book are both sought after devices in their respective product categories. The same might one day be said about the Surface Phone, depending on Microsoft's execution.
Rather than go after the general consumer, patent filings seem to suggest that a Surface Phone would be a productivity-first type of smartphone, one that would potentially serve an entirely new segment in the mobile space. The patents hint at a mobile handset that is more of a desktop computer than a true smartphone, at least in terms of it capabilities. Just as BlackBerry was able to carve out a niche among professional users for at time, a Surface Phone built for Windows productivity could find an audience in the business world.
It may seem like a stretch at the moment, but the alternative is to directly compete with Android and iOS. As Microsoft discovered, that is an uphill battle that's tougher to climb than Mt. Everest during a storm. But if Microsoft focused on being able to run desktop Windows applications, it wouldn't necessarily have to compete with Android and iOS.
To that end, Italian blog site Surface-Phone.it says Microsoft is working on two applications layers for its Surface phone. One is is dubbed RAIL, or remote application interface layer, and the other is called VAIL, or virtualized application interface layer. RAIL would enable the Surface Phone to run legacy Win32 apps, while VAIL would allow it to run Win32 apps through a virtualized server.
The blog also notes that these features would come sometime after the Surface Phone is released, meaning it wouldn't have Win32 support out of the box. That would be a risky strategy in our opinion, as without it, Microsoft would have a tough time differentiating the Surface Phone from a sea of alternative handsets on other platforms.