Surface Duo On The First Look – Remember Windows Phone from way back when? Well, Microsoft is kind of getting back into making smartphones. This is Surface Duo, and it runs Android. Not Windows or Windows Phone. That’s right. Microsoft is making a Surface phone with Android. If that sounds surprising, it’s because it really is. But we’ll get back into the Android side in a minute.
The duo is part of two new futuristic dual-screen devices that Microsoft announced today. And they’re coming in Holiday 2020. Surface Duo has two 5.6 inch displays that fold out into an 8.3-inch device overall. And it’s just 4.8 millimeters thin. It folds like many two-in-one laptops thanks to a 360 degrees hinge. And it’s designed to get more done on the go. It looks tiny for this type of device, and it felt kind of like a Galaxy Note in my pocket.
Now, I wasn’t allowed to play around with the software on this device, but it looks and feels like a tiny pocket tablet that’s also a phone. The difference between this and any other Android phone, except maybe the Galaxy Fold, is visually apparent. But Microsoft thinks this is part of a new category of devices that allow people to do a lot more with tablets and phones than they do today. As part of this idea, Microsoft also announced a Surface Neo device today.
Which has two larger 9-inch displays? The Duo and the Neo share a very similar design, but they don’t share a standard operating system. Neo, the larger dual-screen device, runs Windows 10 X and has all your familiar desktop and tablet apps.
The reason this isn’t running Windows Phone is that Microsoft gave up on that operating system years ago when it couldn’t convince developers to create apps for its devices.
Now we sat down with Microsoft’s Chief Product Officer Panos Panay on The Vergecast. Talk about why Microsoft chose Android this time for the Surface Duo. – “[Panay] Well, because those are the apps you want. I don’t know how to answer it differently for you. Because there are hundreds of thousands of apps, and you want them. Asati and I talked about it, it’s about meeting our customers where they are. And I don’t think the, you know, the mobile application platform’s going anywhere any time soon, you need the apps”.
So you’ll get the apps you’d expect from a phone inside the dual-screen device, but how is this different from any other smartphone?
I mean, it obviously looks different. And the main idea is making use of these two displays in ways we’re only starting to see other Android phone makers explore. You could run a game on one side, and a gamepad on the other, or multi-task by dragging and dropping content between apps. Microsoft hasn’t thought of everything you’d do with the Surface Duo just yet, but that’s why it’s announcing it now so developers can fill in the gaps.
They’re really aiming to introduce a new form factor here, and a way for a device to adjust itself on the go, no matter the task. We’ve seen foldable devices from Huawei and Samsung, but the Duo has two separate displays that are made of glass, rather than foldable plastic. Which given the issues with Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, that might be a good choice right now. Microsoft has been working on this hardware for three years, and Panos Panay tells us that this device won’t change much by the time it debuts late next year.
The real key question will be whether Android app developers create the apps and experiences that really take advantage of this dual-screen device. And whether consumers want this type of hardware in a phone form factor in the first place. That’s why Microsoft also has its most massive Surface Neo device running Windows. And it really feels like the company wants to offer a Surface at every shape and size. Microsoft also seems to be implying that the operating system really doesn’t matter for Surface devices anymore.
And it’s willing to partner with Google and others to offer what makes sense. So does that mean that Android is the future for Microsoft? – “[Panay] No, no, no, no-no-no. You want to give customers what they want in the form factor that they’re using. We’ve learned this, you know. The right operating system on the wrong product or the other way around. Pick your words, but what’s the right operating system for the form factor? And in this case, in mobile devices, Android’s the obvious choice. But anything above that, Windows is everything. Superior for me.
So, will the Surface Duo and the Surface Neo combine in the future? Will there be a smartphone that turns into a tablet that then turns into a laptop, then you dock and turns into a real PC?
We’re years away from anything, even getting close to that. But it opens up the questions about where this dual-screen and foldable hardware is going correctly. And they’re tough questions to answer right now. Microsoft will now need to convince app developers and consumers that these dual-screen devices are indeed the new device category that we’ve all been waiting for.
Wherever things end up, it looks like Microsoft wants to be ready at every point with Surface. Do you want a phone that’s a little bit more than a phone that has a new display? Surface Duo.
Do you want a tablet that transforms into a laptop? Surface Neo or Surface Pro. Microsoft is covering every hardware base here, and it’s leaving it up to you to decide what device you actually need.
[Panay] You know, I think like anything, look at the product you think is most interesting to you, and where you feel you can be more creative, that’s what I would push. And I think this product gonna be there next year. Not in a hurry, you know, hang out. Take photos or do whatever it is you do on your phone today for a little bit longer. And then, see if we can convince you that you can be more creative on this product.
Please consider subscribing to daily tech information like this, and as always, I’ll see you tomorrow.