After screwing up in the smartphone market and after consumers reject the concept of a Windows-based mobile Microsoft is trying to take on the Samsung Fold with a foldable Surface Duo phone that runs Android, the only problem is that it lacks a few features compared to the Samsung offering.
The design of the device resembles Microsoft’s new dual-screen Surface Neo laptop which was also announced overnight. (See separate story).
The Surface Duo features two 5.6-inch displays that can rotate 360 degrees, allowing it to be fully unfolded like a miniature 8.3-inch tablet.
The US Software Company has had several stabs at trying to be a player in the consumer market firstly with their Zune music player and then with their Windows-based smartphones which also failed the consumer test.
Now they want to create a new category in mobile computing with a device that does not include a high-end camera system which most consumers want in portable devices.
Panos Panay, Microsoft’s chief product officer told the BBC “We want people to see the direction we’re taking with productivity,” he said, adding that the products will be released in a year’s time.
“This is the earliest we’ve ever shown [a prototype] Surface. We’re going to get developer units out pretty soon.”
Observers claim it came as no surprise that Microsoft had shied away from trying to incorporate an all-in-one foldable screen, despite the fact that products using the technology had already gone on sale.
“Given the issues Samsung had with the initial version of the Galaxy Fold and the wider challenges around the fragility of flexible displays, it makes sense that device makers are experimenting with alternative designs,” Ben Wood CCS Insight claimed.
The design of the device allows users to run two different apps at the same time across two screens similar to what owners of the new LG V50 5G smartphone can do.
The new Surface Duo can be turned into landscape mode, allowing the second display to be used as a keyboard or game controller.
The version of Android built into the device appears to be heavily skinned, too resemble Windows 10X operating system that the larger Surface Neo runs on.
According to Wired, the Surface Duo is powered by a Snapdragon 855 processor, but elements of the design haven’t been finalized yet — like whether it’ll feature a rear camera at all.
And while Microsoft’s chief product officer Panos Panay seemed loath to call the Surface Duo a “phone” onstage, the announcement was a big one for Microsoft, marking the company’s return to the smartphone space for the first time since the death of the Windows Phone platform back in 2017.
Analyst Geoff Blaber told the BBC it would be some time until it became clear whether the devices would find favour with consumers.
“With Surface Neo and Duo, Microsoft is taking a brave step into a very new category,” he said.
“Duo is a bold new category of device and will take time to build developer and carrier support. This is the start of a journey for Microsoft and expectations should be set accordingly.”
Benedict Evans, from the venture capitalist firm Andreessen Horowitz, was even more sceptical.
“Every year someone makes a phone that’s ‘two phones with a hinge in the middle’,” he tweeted.
“The problem was always that firstly, the phone was twice the size and weight, and secondly, no developers would bother supporting it since it was a tiny percentage of the base.
“Now Microsoft has one…”